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Mary J. Blige to Play Nina Simone? Hmmm…


It's hard to know how to feel about the news that Mary J. Blige will be playing Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. It's truly perplexing. Not because Mary doesn't have the chops, singing or acting. (I think.) But because it seems like bizarre casting a la Ms. Knowles as Etta James. Her broader appeal may sell more tickets, but the film is so niche to begin with that it may not have that much impact. Plus, there are plenty of trained actors who could really get into this role. Viola Davis, perhaps? Or if singing ability is what's key here, why not India.Arie, who may have an easier time adapting to such a low, husky and jazzy style?
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While contemporary pop and R&B singers have their merits, casting a singer with such a flowery vocal style to sing (and I'm assuming Mary will cover the songs) in a style that is much more subdued and straightforward can be a problem. Beyoncé, for example, sang "At Last" very well in Cadillac Records, but she sounded nothing like Etta James. She couldn't. There were 40 years of stylistic differences muddying the vocal waters between her and Etta. The same goes for Mary, whose genre is equally as removed from Nina's.

Is outright mimicry like Jamie Foxx played Ray Charles the solution? It's hard to say. What are your thoughts, SoulBouncers?


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21 Responses

  1. a) Mary cannot sing
    b) She projects as hood no matter what she does
    c) She can't act in her own videos
    d) Nina was an activist & international talent while MJB is a former druggie & hood superstar
    e) Do we really need a R&B singer to play this role? There are REAL actresses out there that could do this!
    I could go on & on but will not. I'm just hoping that this does not happen!

  2. This casting was announced back in 06. I thought they scapped the project since it's taking forever to get done.

  3. i love mjb like anybody but she cant act worth a damn, prison song anyone?

  4. They need to put an actress to work, not MJB

  5. I don't have this much faith in Mary J in general, but CERTAINLY NOT as a singer with minimal proof of acting abilities and NO proof of even touching on Miss Nina's style or genre. I'll catch this 1 on DVD, preferably one that's been purchased by someone else.

  6. If me'chell ndegecello could act, I'd vote for her. (yes, I'm sure I jacked up her name. Sorry)
    Her voice is more Nina. Indie singer Ozara Ode gets my vote, too.
    Hell no to MJB.

  7. Totally agree!
    If singing is a must for this project than I think India Arie has a closer range and timbre to her voice than Mary j. India would be a better match in sound and color than mary j blige. I loved Cadillac Records and feel that the casting for Muddy, Chuck, Lil' Walter & Howling Wolf were on point, BUT I think the casting for Etta was a miss.
    If the goal is to sell tickets than Mary J is an obvious choice for the obvious reasons. -smh-
    Guess, we'll have to wait and see how this turns out.

  8. Nina had quite the life of a drug addict and she was diagnosied as bipolar and schitzophrenic. If you've ever watched her videp logs you clearly see how towards the end, what some would discern as creative justice...others clearly see as a decline of mind. So who? If this were going out as an indie film...any number of non-mainstream actress/singers. It'll be a waste of time for MJB to take this on. I will stick to watching Nina on video dvd's...she of course is much better suited to play herself than anyone else.
    I totally agree that pop singers playing these icons is laughable. Even Diana had more life experience to play Billie than Beyonce did portraying Etta.

  9. I'm a big MJB fan but acting really isn't her forte.

  10. Denzel in drag could do it more justice than MJB. If it's not a musical, don't cast singers.

  11. The songstress that this role would be perfect for seems to be battling some bipolar issues herself. We don't get many shots at telling our stories on the big screen, why waste one on Mary.

  12. Nina's voice is unique. It's NINA'S story. Why the hell would we need MJB caterwauling over Nina's music? Hire one of the many talented actresses (known and unknown) and have them lip-sync. UGH! This just disgusts me.

  13. say what you will but this role was set aside for mary.god is gonna bring it out of mary...just watch

  14. Time and time again, studios cast mainstream singers in films in the hopes that their starpower will sell tickets, and time and time again, the films flop. This has happened with everyone from Justin Timberlake to Beyonce. I'd love to see Lauryn make a comeback on this role, but there are many other actresses that can handle it. They don't have to be able to sing (remember What's Love Got to Do With It?). Viola D. could definitely disappear into the role and convey Simone's sense of purpose, loneliness and delusion. And I'd love to see her alongside Jeffrey White, who will be playing her husband (in my mind).

  15. @JAY -- you thinking Lauryn? Cuz that's who I thought of, if she could ever get her ish together. She was acting before Fugees blew up.
    That said, "What's Love Got To Do With It" and the mention of Viola Davis are two very strong arguments to go with a non-singer. "Oscar nominated actress" fills me with more interested than "Grammy winner" in this context.

  16. I totally agree but I dont think that in the case of Mary J and Beyonce that mimicry is the way to go. Because their style is so distinctive, it was always going to be hard for them to emulate the style of Etta James and (what is to be) Nina Simone. Jamie Foxx on the other hand... I think that you could see from early days (Jamie Foxx Show) and even recently with his comedy specials that he had a special ability to mimic artists.
    I think your earlier comment about getting either an actor with the skill to pull off the 'character', or an artist whose vocal style is closer to that of Nina Simone would be more effective.

  17. If justice is to be done to that life, it needs a wonderful actress playing an extraordinary script because that lady had quite a journey. Though it would be nice if the work were respected, NS used a lot of spoken elements in her work and her voice was so very distinctive, that miming may not be a practical choice. It may not even be best for the telling of the tale. So many of the songs she sang were such intelligent, beautiful and clever songs in their own right that they would still carry their meaning if reinterpreted so maybe it shouldn't be an impersonation, maybe it should stand on its own merits. This has the potential to be greater than the usual biopic but I have the feeling that this movie would simply not be made without a name being attached so I hope MJB has a good director of equal status to help her.

  18. Unfortunately in Hollyweird, the name of the game is box office and no concern is wasted over being historically of factually correct. So if the powers that be feel Mary is a "box office draw" as opposed to an unknown then thats what we will be blessed (or cursed) with.

  19. I'd first like to say, that I have and always will be a Mary J. Blige fan. I'm happy that she's taking her career and expanding beyond her comfort zone.
    I must say that I would love to play the part of Nina Simone, so much so that I have written a play, "Nina Simone: In Her Own Words". It takes place Aug, 19, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency, downtown Atlanta. please go to http://www.ozaraode.com for more information. Don't forget to check out the video!
    Thank you Salient- your comment caught my eye!!!! Give thanks to an Indie Artist receiving an honorable mention!

  20. Angela Bassett actually CAN sing, tho. And Lauryn or India would do this role justice.

  21. I. Love mary j. Blige!!



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