Nina (2016 film)

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Nina poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCynthia Mort
Written byCynthia Mort
Produced by
CinematographyMihai Mălaimare Jr.
Edited by
  • Mark Helfrich
  • Susan Wittenberg
  • Josh Rifkin
Music byRuy Folguera
Distributed byRLJ Entertainment
Release date
  • April 22, 2016 (2016-04-22) (United States)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$22,584[1]

Nina is a 2016 American biographical film written and directed by Cynthia Mort. The film focuses on American musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone, portrayed by Zoe Saldana. The film also stars David Oyelowo, Ella Thomas, and Mike Epps. The film was released on April 22, 2016, in a limited release and through video on demand by RLJ Entertainment. The film was met with heavy criticism and Simone's family refused to endorse it.[2] Saldana later said she regretted accepting the lead role.


In 1988 Nina Simone is financially unsound, mentally unstable and an alcoholic. Her 1960s heyday is far behind her. After threatening a lawyer with a gun, she is forcibly committed to a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital for twenty-four hours. While in the hospital, Nina hires orderly Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo) as an assistant. He accompanies her back to Bouc-Bel-Air, France.

Nina drinks heavily and refuses to take her medication. She proves to be difficult and confrontational. She verbally abuses Clifton, assaults a patron at a nightclub performance and makes Clifton get her random men with whom she has one-night stands. Her behavior drives Clifton back home to America.

Nina is told by her doctor that the results of a biopsy are serious and she needs treatment for cancer.

Nina arrives unannounced at Clifton's family home in Chicago, much to the amusement of his family and his embarrassment. She tells Clifton that she wants him to be her manager. He is hesitant, but agrees to work for her again.

Clifton attempts to book shows in France, but nearly no one wants to deal with Nina's difficult behavior. Nonetheless, his efforts eventually pay off and she performs marvelously at a gig. He gets a studio and she begins recording new music. It is implied that they begin a sexual relationship. Worried about her health, he convinces her to undergo surgery for her cancer.

Once recovered, Nina returns to America for a live performance in Central Park. A crowd flocks to see her and she opens her concert with the song "Feeling Good."




In May 2010, it was announced Mary J. Blige and David Oyelowo had been cast in the film as Nina Simone, and Clifton Henderson respectively, with Cynthia Mort directing the film from a screenplay she had written, and production planned for September of that year.[3] In August 2012, it was announced that Zoe Saldana, who is Afro-Latina, had been cast in the film, replacing Blige as Simone, Blige having exited due to financial issues with the project.[4] The casting of Saldana caused controversy, with Simone Kelly, Simone's daughter, saying, "My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this is not the best choice."[5][6]

In 2014, Mort had begun taking legal action after being cut out of the decision-making process, making her unhappy with the project she spent several years developing.[7]


Production was originally scheduled to begin in September 2010 in France.[3] Principal photography began on October 16, 2012, in Los Angeles, California.[8] To more accurately portray Simone's likeness, light-skinned Afro-Latina Saldana used dark makeup, nasal and dental prosthetics, and wigs when playing to role of Simone for the film.[9] These adjustments to Saldana's natural appearance continued to raise controversy with Nina Simone fans, viewers and even racial justice advocates like Ta-Nehisi Coates.[10]


In September 2015, RLJ Entertainment acquired U.S distribution rights to the film with a planned December 2015 release.[11] The film was released on April 22, 2016, in a limited release and through video on demand.[12] After the film's trailer had been released, Simone's estate's Twitter account tweeted at Saldana, writing, "Please take Nina's name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life. Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now."[13][2] Robert L. Johnson, the chairman and founder of RLJ, issued a statement, saying, "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."[14]


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 2% based on 43 reviews, with an average rating of 3.40/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "A wholly misguided tribute to its subject's searing talent and enduring impact, Nina is the cinematic equivalent of a covers project featuring all the wrong artists."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 27 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[16]

In August 2020, Saldana said she regretted taking on the role.[17] Having previously defended the role,[18] Saldana, who identifies as Afro-Latina, said, "I should have never played Nina. I should have done everything in my power, with the leverage that I had 10 years ago [was] a different leverage but it was leverage nonetheless. I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman."[17]


  1. ^ "Nina (2017)". The Numbers.
  2. ^ a b Blistein, Jon (March 3, 2016). "Nina Simone Estate Slams Biopic Star Zoe Saldana". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Lodderhouse, Diana (May 13, 2010). "Blige tunes up Simone role". Variety. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  4. ^ Kit, Borys (August 15, 2012). "Zoe Saldana to Play Singer Nina Simone in Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  5. ^ Sieczkowski, Cavan (November 20, 2012). "Zoe Saldana Nina Simone Biopic Casting Controversy Heats Up". Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  6. ^ Vega, Tanizia (October 12, 2012). "Stir Builds Over Actress to Portray Nina Simone". The New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  7. ^ Gardner, Eriq. "Director of Nina Simone Film Sues Over Production Company's Hijacking (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  8. ^ Kit, Borys (August 15, 2012). "Zoe Saldana to Play Singer Nina Simone in Biopic". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  9. ^ Stewart, Dodai (October 26, 2012). "Zoe Saldana gets dark makeup prosthetic nose to play Nina Simone". Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  10. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (March 15, 2016). "Nina Simone's Face". Retrieved November 15, 2020.
  11. ^ McNary, Dave (September 10, 2015). "Zoe Saldana's 'Nina' Bought by RLJE, Set for December Release (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  12. ^ Obenson, Tambay A (March 2, 2016). "Watch: Trailer for Nina Simone Biopic Starring Zoe Saldana Arrives". Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  13. ^ McNary, Dave (March 3, 2016). "Nina Simone Estate Slams Biopic Star Zoe Saldana". Variety. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  14. ^ Platon, Adelle (March 3, 2016). "'Nina' Distributors Defend Zoe Saldana After Simone's Family Blasts Biopic". Billboard. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  15. ^ "Nina (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 August 2021.
  16. ^ "Nina reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  17. ^ a b Welk, Brian (August 5, 2020). "Zoe Saldana Regrets Playing Nina Simone in Biopic: 'She Deserved Better'". The Wrap. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  18. ^ "Zoe Saldana Responds to 'Nina' Controversy: "There's No One Way to Be Black"". The Hollywood Reporter. 22 June 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-06-22.

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