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The Legacy of Nina Simone and Controversy Surrounding 'Nina' Film

Marshall Terry
Brenda Flanagan in her office at Davidson College. Flanagan was a personal assistant for Nina Simone in 1967.

Sometimes you can judge the legend of someone by how much they are discussed after they die. It’s been 13 years since the death of Nina Simone, who grew up west of Charlotte in Tryon before achieving worldwide fame as the "High Priestess of Soul."

Credit Marshall Terry / WFAE
A statue of Nina Simone in her hometown of Tryon, NC.

She still generates plenty of discussion.  A documentary on Simone’s life premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last summer.

A movie, titled “Nina,” debuts April 22. It’s received a lot of attention, and criticism, even though it will only be available in limited release and on-demand. At issue is the actress cast to portray Simone.

Simone was passionate about being black. She was a powerful voice against discrimination and helped define the Black Is Beautiful movement. So controversy exploded when Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned, black Latina, landed the role as Simone.

In this segment, Gwendolyn Glenn talks to scholars with differing views about the casting controversy, and Marshall Terry talks to Davidson College professor Brenda Flanagan. She got to know Simone as a nanny and personal assistant. The experience had a lasting impact.