The first trailer for the controversial Nina Simone biopic, starring Zoe Saldana (VIDEO).

Here’s the First Trailer for the Highly Controversial Nina Simone Biopic, Starring Zoe Saldana

Here’s the First Trailer for the Highly Controversial Nina Simone Biopic, Starring Zoe Saldana

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Slate's Culture Blog
March 2 2016 1:42 PM

Here’s the First Trailer for the Highly Controversial Nina Simone Biopic, Starring Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone.
Zoe Saldana, with noticeably darkened skin, as Nina Simone.

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It seems it will be impossible to view Nina, the upcoming biopic about the legendary jazz singer Nina Simone starring Zoe Saldana, through any lens other than that of its surrounding controversy. For years, the public has known about the film’s embittered production and long, uncomfortable journey to the screen. Simone’s daughter has been against the project from pretty much the beginning, going on the record to state that newcomer Cynthia Mort’s feature is unauthorized and to claim that it’s factually inaccurate. Saldana’s casting has caused an uproar due to the heavy prosthetics required to make her look more “believable” as the dark-skinned, wide-nosed Simone. And Mort herself has even turned her back on the film in the last couple of years, suing the production company involved for taking away her creative control over the passion project.

And so Nina, which finally has a release date and now a trailer, is probably going to be forever tainted by all of the making-of drama that surrounds it, no matter how good or bad it actually turns out to be. The first footage suggests that it will dive heavily into Simone’s later years, her struggles with mental illness and racism, and her attempts to stage a comeback. To help bring her back to life is her manager, Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. (More controversy: Simone’s daughter has said the real-life Henderson was gay and accused Mort of queer erasure in supposedly writing Nina as a love story, though the trailer doesn’t suggest a romantic relationship.) It doesn’t look like a terrible movie—Oyelowo is always great, Saldana is usually very good, and this trailer hits all of the expected notes of a music biopic.

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Except … well, Saldana as Simone looks just as awkward in motion as she did in the behind-the-scenes stills. This sort of modern-day blackface is too distracting, too unnecessary, and just too insulting to Simone’s legacy to be ignored, even in just this two-minute trailer. It’ll probably only be worse to endure over the movie’s full runtime when it hits theaters April 22.

Aisha Harris is a Slate culture writer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.