Nina Distributor Responds to Zoë Saldana Casting Backlash: 'Quality of Performance Should Never Be Judged on the Basis of Color'

Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone: Movie Distributor Respond to Casting Backlash
Zoë Saldana in Nina

03/03/2016 AT 02:15 PM EST

The production company behind the Nina Simone biopic Nina has responded to the swirling controversy surrounding Zoë Saldana's turn as the late singer.

"Zoë Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone," Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of RLJ Entertainment and founder of BET, said in a statement to PEOPLE. "She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent."

Nina director Cynthia Mort expressed similar feelings, telling Entertainment Weekly, "Zoë gave an amazingly courageous and great performance. I think that’s all that should matter."

After the first trailer for the film was released on Wednesday, Simone's estate had harsh words for the actress, tweeting at her to "please take Nina's name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life."



Johnson's statement continued: "The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness."

"Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance," he said. "We are proud to distribute the film headlined by Zoë Saldana and David Oyelowo on April 22, 2016."


When Saldana was cast in 2012, many disagreed with the light-skinned actress playing the darker-skinned music icon – including her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly.

"My mother suffered. We can go all the way back to when she was a child and people told her nose was too big, her skin was too dark, her lips were too wide. It's very important the world acknowledges my mother was a classical musician whose dreams were not realized because of racism," Kelly said in a 2015 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier, Kelly told The New York Times, "Appearance-wise this is not the best choice."

As part of her transformation, Saldana appeared to be fitted with a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup.

Back in 2013, Saldana told HipHollywood.com of the controversy, "I don't care who tells me that I am not this and I am not that. I know who I am and I know what Nina Simone means to me. So that is my truth and that set me free."

Nina hits theaters on April 22.
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