This one is unspeakable.

This one is unspeakable.

Had she still been with us, what would she have thought?

Had she still been with us, what would she have thought?

I'm not feelin' good.

I’m not feelin’ good.

A reader comment on Roger Ebert’s website said the following regarding Nina: “why not hire Cate Blanchett and fully lean in to the minstrelsy?” Indeed, if you are willing to cover Zoe Saldana in brown-face and prosthetics just so that she more closely resembles African-American musical icon Nina Simone, even though an actress with a more accurate skin color would likely have played the role better and also not looked unnervingly close to doing a 1940’s “negro” caricature, what in your conscience is stopping you from putting a white actress in a full-blown minstrel uniform and use the excuse that she was so great in the role that no other option was thinkable (a cop-out that doesn’t even ring true in the case of Saldana as Simone)?

The blatant use of black-face aside, Nina is a disgrace to Simone’s name and critics have in their wisdom panned it without mercy for that reason exactly. Surely this has to be one of the most respectless bio-pics any cultural figure has ever been given? If you want to see the tribute that this amazing woman deserves, log on to Netflix right now and look up the What Happened, Miss Simone? documentary this second. And hold the “chill”. There are more important things to be done.

The film follows Simone in the troubled years after her heyday, where was she brought to a mental institution in Los Angeles after threatening a lawyer with a firearm, was addicted to several substances at once, and got a personal assistant in the form of Clifton Henderson, played in the film by David Oweloyo (he, if anyone, should know better) and incorrectly portrayed as a semi-love interest to Simone. Henderson later also became her manager, giving her a chance to return to the stage in defiance of the rep she’d made for herself through her behavior and once more sing terrific songs that Saldana’s vocal chords couldn’t even hope to replicate. Even to those who love Simone’s music as much as I, the musical numbers in this film are gonna be the salt in the wounds.

There is an underlying sense of spite throughout Nina, almost as if its director and screenwriter Cynthia Mort truly loathes the music and the musician she’s been tasked with celebrating on the silver screen. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. She has made it very clear that the producers did a lot of meddling and worsened her film plus its portrayal of Nina, which isn’t all too comforting as Oweloyo is listed amongst them.

It's what King would have wanted.

It’s what King would have wanted.

No matter whose fault it is, this is not the loving homage that this singer deserves, nor the things she stood for, and it often feels inentional in its insult. Ronald Guttman‘s vile character Henri is given a line where he complains that people inexplicably pay to see Nina Simone perform even though she is a “fucked up alcoholic and drug addict”. Why do I get the feeling he was meant to be a mouthpiece rather than a poorly written villain?

Very rarely are scenes that involve Simone’s behavior and mental instability played for drama – or if they are, they’re just really loathsomely executed and acted. Not only does Zoe Saldana not look like the real Nina Simone (if she did, as some desperate contrarian might argue in the comments below, why would the Little Britain-esque makeup work be necessary?) but her performance is so bad that it only makes the lengths they went to in order to “correct” her appearance seem all the more laughable. If you had cast, say, Lupita Nyong’o, you would (A) instantly have had a superior actress under your wing and (B) not have to add a few extra shades of black to her body to get the pigment right and be accused of bringing the minstrel show back in the process. But then, I’d guess it was hard to find actresses willing to participate in this joke of a film – for a low price.

Also in on this project are Mike Epps as comedy legend Richard Pryor (a less repulsive casting choice) and Ella Joyce and Keith David as Clifton Henderson’s parents. As an actor, Keith David is very similar to Ron Perlman in the respect that he seems to be an actor who says yes to just about everything, hence why his filmography is so massive and intricate. But just as Perlman should have given his appearance in Stonewall a second thought, so too should Mr. David have asked himself whether he truly wanted his name to be associated with such an insulting, incorrect and borderline racist production as Nina.

Yet again, I’m not sure who is to blame for what happened. All I know for sure is that, like last year’s Fifty Shades of Grey, I cannot in good taste be enthusiastic about any aspect of its making without feeling as though I support some truly horrible people, thus I am giving it a 0/5 and a huge F for Failure. And to whomever we should pin it all on: Sinnerman, you oughta be prayin’.

I will post the trailer link here as usual, but I don’t know that I even want you to look at that. It’s a movie I’d rather we just let get washed away by the sands of time and that this is a mistake we do not repeat. That last part is a little naively optimistic but I can dream.

0/5 whatever

Advertisements