Nina Simone’s Daughter Defends Zoe Saldana: ‘She’s Not Responsible’ for ‘Lies’

“This is not how you want your loved ones remembered,” Simone Kelly says in blasting biopic “Nina”

Zoe Saldana, Nina Simone
Getty Images/Netflix

Nina Simone’s daughter didn’t exactly rush to the defense of Zoe Saldana, but she more or less got there over the course of a recent interview.

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” the 53-year-old Simone Kelly told Time magazine. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

What Kelly was referring to is the blowback against Saldana’s portrayal of the famous jazz musician in the biopic “Nina.” Saldana wears dark makeup to match Nina Simone’s complexion, and the content of the film isn’t exactly spot-on either, Kelly said.

“The movie is about a relationship between my mother and Clifton [Henderson] which never took place. They never had an amorous relationship,” Kelly said, adding that Henderson was a gay man. “The project has been tainted from the very beginning. Clearly, it is not the truth about my mother’s life, and everyone now knows that. This is not how you want your loved ones remembered.”

Online opposition hails directly from the late singer’s official Twitter account, which the family says was once run by family friend Aaron Overfield. It’s unclear if he is still behind it.

The family itself is “not upset with Zoe,” said Kelly, an actress and singer herself. But Kelly added that she didn’t think the actress was the “proper choice, appearance-wise.”

“There are many superb actresses of color who could more adequately represent my mother and could bring her to the screen with the proper script, the proper team and a sense of wanting to bring the truth of my mother’s journey to the masses,” she added. “And ‘Nina,’ in my opinion, doesn’t do any of that.”

“I really didn’t feel much of anything except for poor Zoe,” Kelly concluded.

“Nina” is written and directed by Cynthia Mort. David Oyelowo plays Henderson, and Mike Epps appears as Richard Pryor.

The Ealing Studios production is set for an April 22 release. RLJ Entertainment is distributor.