The controversy surrounding the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic rages on, with the director of a previous documentary about the singer reacting to the distributor’s recent defence of the movie, saying that “not every actor can play every role”.

Jeff L. Lieberman, who directed 2015 documentary The Amazing Nina Simone, wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter and criticised not just the casting of Saldana, but also the tone and content of the script as “ugly and inaccurate”.

Nina, set for release in the US on April 22nd, has come under heavy fire from fans of the legendary singer, as the movie’s producers appear to have used prosthetics and makeup to make 37 year old Saldana more closely resemble Simone. Lieberman added his voice to this, saying the decision to do so was tone-deaf of the “horrible history of this type of portrayal”.

Zoe SaldanaThe casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone has continued to cause controversy

“I am saddened by the ugly and inaccurate portrayal contained in the script and trailer for Nina and by Mr. [Robert L.] Johnson's desperate attempt to defend the project," he wrote.

Robert L. Johnson, the chairman of RLJ Entertainment who are distributing the movie, defended the techniques used to make the movie, saying that the objections to Saldana playing a darker-skinned musician “hearkens back to how we were treated when we were slaves… …the slave masters separated light-skinned blacks from dark-skinned blacks, and some of that social DNA still exists today among many black people.”

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Lieberman had short shrift for this argument. “Suggesting that people who look like Zoe Saldana are the victim is wrong, and a quick trick at reverse racism… …Ms. Saldana could easily play the part of Lena Horne, and Halle Berry did a fine job as Dorothy Dandridge. But not every actor can play every role, even if you are of the same racial background.”

The director also criticised the script for focussing too much on Simone’s life during the 1990s, a difficult time for her personally, while not giving emphasis on her music and activism.

“Ms. Simone had six other decades of phenomenal musical accomplishments and civil rights stands, and she became an international symbol of freedom, pride and artistry. To overlook this is not only an insult to Ms. Simone’s very rich and complex life, but a blatant white-washing of her achievements as a black woman in 20th century America.”

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