The estate of Dr. Nina Simone has joined forces with @radical.media to bring the definitive, feature documentary on the life of the ‘High Priestess of Soul’ to the masses.
“Nina is right up there with Sinatra, Presley and Dylan as one of the most iconic musical artists of the 20th Century. Yet, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of her life’s story which was as tumultuous and inspirational as her music was captivating,” said Justin Wilkes, @radical.media President of Media + Entertainment. “Her family and estate will be invaluable partners as we’ve been given unprecedented access to weave together her fascinating story.”
According to the press release, Jayson Jackson, the estate’s representative, brought the project to @radical.media, and it will include “highlights from hours of never-before-seen archival and performance footage tracing Nina’s life from her journey from poverty in the Jim Crow South, to her defining role in the Civil Rights struggle and her arrival on the world’s stage and finally, her self-imposed exile in France.”
“I’ve been waiting for many years to bring the true and complete story of my mom’s life to the screen”, said Simone [Kelly], Nina’s daughter. “I’m excited to be working with partners who have a long history of producing important films and together we will be able to preserve my mom’s cultural and musical legacy.”
Kelly has not made a secret of her displeasure with the current re-imagining and caricaturization of her mother’s life being brought to the silver screen by writer and director Cynthia Mort and executive producer Jimmy Iovine. At the heart of the controversy are three intersecting issues:
- The sensationalized effort is not based on fact.
- It was not authorized by Nina Simone’s estate.
- The casting of Afro-Latina actress Zoe Saldana — complete with blackface and prosthetics — as Nina Simone.
In an exclusive interview with NewsOne, Aaron Overfield, author and Content Manager for the Nina Simone Estate, spoke in depth about Kelly’s determination to bring her mother’s truth to the world and how the casting of Zoe Saldana is an insult to the entrenched racism and colorism that not only informed Nina Simone’s music, but shaped her life.
NewsOne: Did this opportunity [to create the definitive Nina Simone documentary] arise from the controversy surrounding the casting of Zoe Saldana?
Overfield: This opportunity with @radical.media arose from Nina’s daughter, Simone, unrelentingly seeking out the best means to deliver the estate’s overall vision. Simone has been working to solidify and nurture her mother’s legacy since Nina’s death in 2003. Plans for many different projects–the documentary being one of the most crucial–have been in place for years and are continuing to be developed and rolled out.
In short, this documentary was on path to happen with or without the unauthorized film.
It’s also important to point out that Simone and the estate disagree with the unauthorized film on multiple levels, not merely the casting. The casting of the role is only a symptom of many deeper concerns, whereby Nina’s life has become fictionalized, whitewashed, and trivialized. Nina’s identity itself has become gentrified by well-intentioned but grossly out-of-touch egos.
NewsOne: How do you think Nina would feel about the intense, important conversations that have emerged from fans fighting for the integrity of her memory?
Overfield: I can’t say how Nina would have actually felt, I can only speculate. She was unpredictable and at times contradictory. I can say that some things seem more in-line than others with the overall spirit Nina presented to the world.
I think Nina would be happy people are impassioned, vocal, and actively seeking out discourse. Those are things Nina wanted of people and things she wanted to do to people. So, in a way, I think she’d be quite pleased with all the hoopla, and probably at least a little tickled that it was all about her.
Nina would also likely be delighted people are talking about race. It was a significant issue for her and she didn’t have much faith that future generations (especially in the United States) would tackle the issue with enough seriousness.
RELATED: Critics: Zoe Saldana Is Not ‘Dark-Skinned Enough’ To Play Nina Simone
Nina would want people to have these intense, important conversations and to keep having them. Over and over and over again.
In terms of people fighting over her memory in particular, I think one question Nina might raise is: Where were you?
Where were we when Nina was exploited and marginalized? Where were we when she was forgotten and tossed aside? Where were we when she was still alive and she needed us? Where were we when she died alone and feeling unloved?
It’s great people are concerned about her memory and are fighting over it now, but how much better would it have been to have had this fight while she was still with us? I suppose it’s human nature not to appreciate someone until they are gone, but it’s important to understand it doesn’t have to be that way.
In terms of the content of much of the current controversy, I think Nina said all she needed to say in “Four Women.”
Nina spoke very clearly of four different black women: women with different complexions, women with different hair, women with different phenotypes, women with different experiences. By singling each out, Nina acknowledged each. Each was their own woman, each beautiful and strong in their own regard. Each treated differently because of their differences.
Nina was Peaches. Nina was a damn proud Peaches. Do I think Nina would have been happy with someone making a lie out of Peaches’ story and then dressing up Safronia to tell it, especially when the truth is out there and when there are so many available Peaches? No, I don’t think she would have been happy about that. I don’t think she would have been happy about that at all.
While academics, critics and casual observers will continue to debate colorism in film, degrees of Blackness and the importance of authenticity in storytelling, what remains most important to Nina’s fans, friends and family is that her legacy be sacred, not sanitized – and that is something that drives Kelly daily.
“The controversy [surrounding the film] has visibly strengthened Simone’s resolve to get her mother’s true story told and to have it done with dignity, respect, and brutal honesty,”shares Overfield. “Nina herself would have had it no other way. After all the controversy has died down and the dust settles, only the sincerest representation of Nina Simone will remain standing and be worthy of acclaim.”