Controversy surrounding the casting of actress Zoe Saldana in a biopic of iconic jazz singer Nina Simone continues to heat up with a Change.org petition requesting the replacement of the "Avatar" actress with "an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone" gaining steam.
Last month, the first photo of Saldana on the set of the biopic "Nina" leaked. Saldana could be seen "wearing an Afro wig and what appears to be a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup" to look more like Simone, according to ABC News.
Debate ensued over whether Saldana, an Afro-Latina actress of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, should ever have been cast as Simone, an African-American artist and civil rights activist who fought against racism throughout her career.
Lanita Jacobs, an anthropology professor at the University of Southern California who often lectures on the portrayal of African-Americans in film and on television, says Salanda's casting and subsequent transformation into Simone is offensive to women who have struggled with self-image.
"We understand that there are these beauty issues," Jacobs told NPR on Tuesday, "and sometimes what sanctions people's right to speak on these kind of issues is whether they have had experiences born of what it means to have kinky hair, or to have wide noses or darker skin. Nina's music taps into a certain kind of awareness born of the way she looks."
Simone's daughter, Simone Kelly, disagreed with Saldana's casting during an interview with the New York Times. “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," she said.
Kelly said she would have rather seen Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise play her mother, who died in 2003. Simone's own choice was Whoopi Goldberg. Singer Mary J. Blige was originally slated to play Simone, according to NPR, but she was replaced by the 34-year-old "Avatar" actress.
A Change.org petition against Saldana as Simone asks for executive producer Jimmy Iovine and director Cynthia Mort to replace Saldana. It currently has over 9,000 signatures.
African-American artists have also criticized the choice of Saldana.
Singer-songwriter India.Arie spoke out in an online post. "YES they should have chosen someone who LOOKS like Nina Simone, ESPECIALLY since her RACE played such a PIVOTAL role in WHO, WHAT and WHY, she was," she posted on her website. "THAT ASIDE for a second, this just looks WEIRD, it looks like a person in Black(er) face with a fake nose … REALLY?!!!!"
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Jazz Singer Nina Simone Dies
UNSPECIFIED - 1968: This studio portrait shows American pianist and jazz singer Nina Simone reclining on the floor circa 1968. Simone, whose deep, raspy voice made her a unique jazz figure and later helped chronicle the civil rights movement, died in her sleep on April 21, 2003 of natural causes after a long illness. She was 70. (Photo by Getty Images)
17th September 1979: American jazz singer, Nina Simone (1933 - 2003). (Photo by Monty Fresco/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
American soul, jazz and blues vocalist Nina Simone (1933 - 2003) relaxes at the Hanover Grand during a reception held for her in London. She is here on a promotional visit and is scheduled to appear on the television show 'Frost On Sunday'. (Photo by Ian Showell/Getty Images)
19th July 1978: American jazz singer Nina Simone (1933 - 2003). (Photo by John Minihan/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Nina Simone in the fifties in France.
FRANCE - CIRCA 1900: Nina Simone in the fifties in France. (Photo by REPORTERS ASSOCIES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Music Personalities. pic: 10th May 1967. Nina Simone, (1923-2003) American jazz singer.
Music, Personalities, pic: 10th May 1967, Nina Simone, (1923-2003) American jazz singer (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
NINA SIMONE DAUGHTER LISA
Jazz Singer Nina Simone Dies
UNSPECIFIED - OCTOBER 18, 1964: American pianist and jazz singer Nina Simone performs October 18, 1964 in an unidentifed location. Simone, whose deep, raspy voice made her a unique jazz figure and later helped chronicle the civil rights movement, died in her sleep on April 21, 2003 of natural causes after a long illness. She was 70. (Photo by Getty Images)
Picture dated 20 July 1988 of legendary jazz and b
JUAN LES PINS, FRANCE: Picture dated 20 July 1988 of legendary jazz and blues singer Nina Simone taking her breakfast at a Juan-Les-Pins hotel during the Jazz festival in the French southern Riviera town. Simone died 21 April 2003 at the age of 70 ather home in southern France, said her manager in a statement. AFP PHOTO Michel GANGNE (Photo credit should read MICHEL GANGNE/AFP/Getty Images)
(FILES) Picture dated 22 October 1991 of legendary jazz and blues singer Nina Simone in concert at the Olympia music hall in Paris. Simone died 21 April 2003 at the age of 70 ather home in southern France, said her manager in a statement. AFP PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO - Nina Simone
NEW YORK - APRIL 13: (FILE PHOTO) Jazz singer Nina Simone attends the Rainforest Foundation 11th Annual Carnegie Hall Benefit concert after party at the Pierre Hotel on April 13, 2002 in New York City. Simone, whose deep, raspy voice made her a unique jazz figure and later helped chronicle the civil rights movement, died in her sleep on April 21, 2003 of 'natural causes' after a long illness. She was 70. (Photo by Jimi Celeste/Getty Images)