Outrage Watch: First look at Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone has fans crying ‘blackface’

Welcome to Outrage Watch, HitFix's semi-regular rundown of entertainment-related kerfuffles. Not feeling anxious enough already? Get your fix of righteous indignation below, and stay posted for outrage updates throughout the week.

UPDATE (3/3, 6:43 PM EST): Robert L. Johnson, the founder and chairman of Nina distributor RLJ  Entertainment, has released an official statement on the casting controversy. Here it is in full:

“Zoe Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone.  She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent.   The most important thing is that creativity or quality of performance should never be judged on the basis of color, or ethnicity, or physical likeness.  Quality entertainment should be measured by the sheer force of creativity and the commitment that an actor or actress brings to the performance.  We are proud to distribute the film headlined by Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo on April 22, 2016.”


The surprising news: thought-dead Nina Simone biopic Nina starring Zoe Saldana finally has a release date and an official poster (courtesy of EW). The not surprising news: a lot of people aren't particularly happy about it. First, here's the poster:

A little backstory: Nina has been plagued by problems almost from the very beginning. Not only was Saldana's casting criticized early on by musician India.Arie and other fans of the late musician, but in 2014, director Cynthia Mort sued producers for allegedly cutting her out of the decision-making process on the film, claiming in a breach-of-contract lawsuit that Ealing Studios “consistently acted to frustrate” her attempts to maintain control over the project, including cutting her out of the editing process. In an interview with Latina magazine in 2015, Saldana further charged the producers with “mismanagement,” saying in part: “the people behind the project weren”t my cup of tea.”

Now that the project has been officially slated for release after years of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, backlash against Saldana's casting has bubbled back to the surface, with many charging the film with using “blackface” in order to make Saldana closer in appearance to the dark-skinned singer-songwriter, among other critiques (Saldana previously insinuated that those claims are a form of “reverse racism” via retweet). Here are a few choice reactions: