Mike Epps to play Richard Pryor in the Nina Simone biopic
After what seems like an eternity of development, plus a whole lot of recent controversy, that Nina Simone biopic is set to begin filming next week. With some circles in an uproar over Zoe Saldana being cast to play the legendary jazz musician and civil rights activist, another surprising choice has been made as Mike Epps has been set to play Richard Pryor in Nina.
Epps has been doing the best work of his career lately, most recently in Jumping the Broom and as the douchebag comedian in the Sparkle remake. It'll be interesting to see just how much of Pryor's manic energy(mostly drug-fueled) he's called upon to emulate. Right now we don't know if it's a cameo or something larger. All we know is that he'll be appearing opposite Saldana and David Oyelowo in a story that will chronicle Simone's relationship with Clifton Henderson. Simone met him during the final years of her life at a California psychiatric hospital where the two became fast friends. Pryor met Simone early in their careers and reportedly she helped him overcome his stage fright.
So back to Saldana for a second, I'm not going to get into the whole white-washing thing. Hollywood does it, that's a fact. And when it comes to African-American roles, they do it even more. Lighter skinned actors are often hired to play darker skinned roles. Do I think that was the case here, though? I don't know, but starting online petitions demanding writer/director Cynthia Mort replace her with someone who "looks like" Simone is silly. First of all, it's not going to happen. And second, it's rare when an actor ever truly looks like the person they are portraying. If all you're looking for is an actress that is darker, then that's a fairly limited way to perceive Simone as a person. I don't Saldana can do the role because I've yet to see her do anything requiring much in the way of complexity. It has nothing to do with the color of her skin.
Anyway, there are a number of roles left to fill so expect more announcements in the next few days. [THR]