“Please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life,” the estate tweeted at Saldana’s account.
In another tweet, the estate said, “Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing. It shall pass, but for now…”
Robert L. Johnson, who’s distributing the biopic, responded on Thursday with strong support for Saldana’s portrayal of the late singer following criticism of her casting.
“Zoë Saldana delivers an exceptional and mesmerizing tribute to Nina Simone,” said Johnson, founder and chairman of RLJ Entertainment and founder of BET. “She gave her heart and soul to the role and displayed her extraordinary talent.”
The film opens in theaters, VOD and digital HD on April 22. The film, directed by Cynthia Mort from her own script, was not authorized by Simone’s estate.
After the first trailer for the film was released on Wednesday, Saldana tweeted on her account by quoting the late singer: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me- No Fear… I mean really, no fear.”
Saldana was cast in 2012 as Simone, prompting protests from Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone Kelly and others over her lack of resemblance to the actress.
Simone, who died in 2003, was a singer, songwriter and civil rights activist who performed in a wide range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, gospel and pop. She was a 15-time Grammy nominee and received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000.
RLJ Entertainment bought the North American rights to “Nina” in September, with Johnson noting that he had worked with Simone and asserting that he knew “first-hand of her major contribution to the soul and emotion of the Civil Rights Movement.”
The film focuses on the singer’s relationship with her former nurse-turned-manager Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. In the trailer, Simone offers Henderson a job to help take care of her affairs, followed by several scenes of her struggle to get her career back on path as she battles a drinking problem.
Johnson’s statement concluded: “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. We are proud to distribute the film headlined by Zoë Saldana and David Oyelowo on April 22, 2016.”
The documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” directed by Liz Garbus and released last year by Netflix, was nominated this year for an Academy Award but lost to the Amy Winehouse documentary “Amy.”