The distributor of Zoe Saldana‘s upcoming film “Nina” has responded to the backlash over the actress’ casting in the role of African-American singer Nina Simone.
According to the Associated Press, Robert L. Johnson, the founder of RLJ Entertainment, said that the complaints mirror “an interracial ‘pathology’ established by slave owners.”
“It’s a tragic past that still exists today,” said Johnson, who earlier this month also defended Saldana, stating that she “delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone.”
A couple weeks ago, shortly after the official poster for “Nina” was released, fans took to Twitter to point out that Saldana looked nothing like Simone, the singer-songwriter and civil rights activist whose struggle to balance music, family and personal political beliefs found her living alone in France, feeling exiled from her native U.S.
“Zoe Saldana looks nothing like Nina Simone #FAIL not even close,” tweeted one user. “Why not just Will Smith to do it?” In 2012, rumors circulated that Saldana would play Simone, and the response was overwhelmingly negative, with fans saying Saldana is too light-skinned to portray the singer.
“What people are expressing today is something that happened to us during slavery, when light-skinned blacks were turned against dark-skinned blacks and dark-skinned blacks were turned against light-skinned blacks,” Johnson said. “It’s been an unfortunate part of our DNA that was put in our heads by slave masters that is still present today, as you see by people talking about is somebody dark enough to play a role.”
Johnson, who is also the founder of BET, continued that this situation reminds him of the slave owners who “separated us by color.”
“That’s almost saying that dark-skinned black people have a special cross to bear than light-skinned,” he said. “That is exactly what was put on us, that’s the burden that was put on us by slave owners who separated us by color.”
In March, even Simone’s Twitter handle slammed Saldana after the actress quoted Simone on Twitter.
“Nina” hits theaters on Apr. 22 and is written and directed by Cynthia Mort.