I’m no actress, but I believe that portraying someone’s life in a movie has to be one of the hardest jobs of all time. Some of my most absolute favorite movies in the world are biopics of legends like: “What’s Love Got To Do With It” starring Tina Turner, “Ray” starring Jamie Fox, “Ali” starring Will Smith, “Walk The Line” starring Reese Witherspoon, “Malcolm X” starring Denzel Washington and several more. I was even recently entirely enthralled in the FX series “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” because the actors were just so good (um standing ovation for Courtney B. Vance).
So when I was invited to check out a sneak peek of the movie “Nina” before it hit theaters, I was thrilled to go. I’d read about the fans and family of Nina Simone being in an uproar when Zoe Saldana was cast to play the singing legend. “She looks nothing like her” several cried out, “she has no soul,” others said on social media. The outrage got even worse once filming of the movie started and Saldana was spotted in “black face.” Admit-tingly so I didn’t know a lot about Nina Simone before I saw the movie based on her life last week. I did know that she had an incredible voice and made incredible music. I was indifferent about Saldana playing Nina, so I didn’t go in to the screening with low or high hopes, just curiosity.
The narrative of the film is based around a vintage interview with Simone where the interviewer is asking her several questions about her life. Simone lands in the psych ward. There, she meets Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), a nurse who reluctantly agrees to travel to France to become her personal assistant. Henderson’s role includes waiting hand and foot on a moody Simone who consumes champagne all day and refuses to eat. Henderson is also responsible for booking her gigs and handling her daily affairs until he gets fed up and leaves, only to come back when Simone is diagnosed with a form of cancer. Simone and Henderson have lots of success together in the later years of her life and the movie ends off on a happy note. Still, it is not like any biopic I’ve ever seen as the storytelling is a bit all over the place and although I’m a huge fan of Saldana her portrayal in this movie just didn’t seem to be the right fit for her. Still, the movie left me wanting to know more about the fascinating life of the incredible Nina Simone. I hope that Nina’s family is able to tell her story her way one day soon.