In a Hollywood Reporter guest column, the director of the 2015 documentary The Amazing Nina Simone adds his voice to film's chorus of critics, lambasting both the casting and the content of the film while reacting to the film distributor's recent defense of the movie.
"I am saddened by the ugly and inaccurate portrayal contained in the script and trailer for Nina and by Mr. [Robert L. Johnson]'s desperate attempt to defend the project," The Amazing Nina Simone director Jeff L. Lieberman wrote.
Lieberman critiques filmmakers' decision to use makeup and prosthetics to make the admittedly lighter-skinned Saldana more closely resemble the late singer. He said this move ignores "the horrible history of this type of portrayal."
Speaking to THR a few weeks ago, Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET and chairman of RLJ Entertainment, said the objection to Saldana playing a darker-skinned musician "hearkens back to how we were treated when we were slaves," adding: "The slave masters separated light-skinned blacks from dark-skinned blacks, and some of that social DNA still exists today among many black people."
Lieberman criticized this characterization of the situation.
"Suggesting that people who look like Zoë Saldana are the victim is wrong, and a quick trick at reverse racism," Lieberman wrote. "Ms. Saldana could easily play the part of Lena Horne, and Halle Berry did a fine job as Dorothy Dandridge. But not every actor can play every role, even if you are of the same racial background."
But casting aside, the director, who read the Nina script four years ago, said the film's "real problem" is the focus on Simone's life in the 1990s, calling it the "bleakest" time in her life.
He believes the film's focus on "the handful of unfortunate events that occurred at that time" does not give her music and activism enough attention. He also takes issue with the fact that the movie ignores Simone's weight gain during the 90s and turns her openly gay assistant Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo) into a love interest.
"Ms. Simone had six other decades of phenomenal musical accomplishments and civil rights stands, and she became an international symbol of freedom, pride and artistry. To overlook this is not only an insult to Ms. Simone’s very rich and complex life, but a blatant white-washing of her achievements as a black woman in 20th century America," he wrote.
Nina opens April 22.