Zoe Saldana To Play Nina Simone?
Update! She's signed on
Update! According to The Hollywood Reporter, Saldana is officially on board to play Simone, replacing Mary J Blige in the lead. Oyelowo is still aboard as Clifton Henderson.
The film has been gradually developing for several years now, but it looks as if Nina, the Nina Simone biopic, is finally moving forward, with Zoe Saldana apparently in line to star. The screenplay is by Cynthia Mort (The Brave One), based on Simone's 1992 autobiography I Put A Spell On You.
Back in 2010, deals at Cannes saw the film coming together with Mary J Blige in the title role and David Oyelowo as Simone's assistant Clifton Henderson. That bit of information, and the bare synopsis released at the time, suggested that the film would focus on Simone and Henderson's relationship, which happened relatively late in Simone's life. The Playlist suggest that that might be a framing narrative however, giving scope for the wider points of her extraordinary career to be told in lengthy flashback.
There's certainly drama there. Born in North Carolina in 1933, Simone initially planned a career as a classical pianist, but was denied a scholarship to Philadelphia's Curtis Institute Of Music because of her colour. Drifting into performing in bars she built a loyal following and began to have recorded successes, and she became a prominent member of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, including its message on visceral tracks like Mississippi Goddam, Old Jim Crow and her cover of Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit.
She stopped paying tax in the US as a protest against the Vietnam War, which made her an exile from the States in later life. To avoid arrest, she settled in Barbados for some time - she had a long relationship with its Prime Minister Errol Barrow - before moving on to Liberia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and finally the South of France. She died in Bouches-du-Rhone in 2003.
Whether Blige and Oyelowo remain attached the film is unclear. IOTG's brief announcement only actually says that Saldana "will star in Nina", which doesn't explicitly say that she'll be playing Nina Simone. The Playlist suggest that, if Blige is still on board at the top, Saldana could possibly be involved as her daughter, Lisa Celeste Stroud, the Broadway actress and singer who performs under the name "Simone".
More questions than answers, then. The film was initially intended to start filming two years ago. Clearly that didn't happen, but the project remains at Ealing Studios. More as we get it.