The trailer for Nina hints at the tragic yet compelling story of Nina Simone, the “High Priestess of Soul.” The legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist lived a difficult life, filled with depression and addiction. Writer-director Cynthia Mort’s biographical film seems to focus on the long-term relationship that arose between Simone (Zoe Saldana) and her nurse-turned-manager, Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), after she was hospitalized for psychiatric help.
The film has been beset with difficulties and controversies since Mort first optioned the singer’s life story in 2005. Many Simone fans threatened to boycott the film after the light-skinned Saldana replaced Mary J. Blige—who dropped out due to scheduling conflicts—for the lead role, only to be fitted with a fake nose and have her skin darkened with make-up to better resemble Simone. Saldana herself confided to InStyle magazine, “I didn’t think I was right for the part.” In 2014, Mort sued the film’s production company, claiming to have been cut out of its decision-making process. And Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly was apparently unhappy with the film’s script, which she has said puts too strong an emphasis on Henderson, a composite character.
How much all of these issues will affect the final cut remains to be seen. We’ll all know more when Nina arrives in theaters on April 22.