Directed by Cynthia Mort
Written by Cynthia Mort
Starring: Zoe Saldana, David Oyelowo, Ella Thomas, and Mike Epps
“Nina” the “controversial” biopic of the legendary Nina Simone, the word controversial appears in quotes because the controversy surrounding the movie was only half warranted. I will get to that a little later, but controversy aside, this movie fails on so many other levels that it is surprising that “Nina” got made at all.
On the controversy surrounding the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone, first and foremost, Saldana as an African American woman she has every right to portray Simone. The darkness of Saldana’s is irrelevant, and would go unnoticed by most audiences. However, someone – I do not know who it was – thought it was a good idea to have Saldana wear makeup to darken her completion. The practice of having an actor, either white or light skinned African Americans, put on makeup to make them appear African American is called blackface, and the practice carries many negative connotations. The blackface element is the element of this that is a step too far; it is like Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It is obvious that Saldana is wearing dark makeup, and this fact is jarring. The performance Saldana gives is only adequate, nothing spectacular. She is not going to win an Oscar for this performance; let alone even be nominated. To Saldana’s credit, the performance is not dreadful either, just only adequate. Like Saldana, the rest of the cast were only adequate.
The director of the movie, Cynthia Mort, has an extensive history of producing and writing, but “Nina” is her first directing credit – in either film or television – and it shows. “Nina” is the film school short film thesis version of a biopic about Nina Simone. The movie is disjointed, unfocused, and worst of all, it takes everything that made Nina Simone an important and Iconic figure of American music and treated them as mere footnotes. Simone’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement is completely glossed over, her denial to Curtis Institute of Music – a music school in Philadelphia – is treated as a throwaway piece of information, and her music is there just to be there. When you make a biopic about Nina Simone that is the stuff you focus on, not on whatever it was that “Nina” was about.
If you want to learn something about Nina Simone, you should watch the fabulous documentary “What Happened, Miss. Simone” on Netflix, listen to her music, or read her autobiography “I Put a Spell on You.” If you want to see a trainwreck of a movie, then by all means, watch “Nina.”