Here’s What the Makers of a Future Prince Biopic Can Learn From the Nina Simone Debacle

Step 1: Ask yourself if you can tell a story about Prince worthy of the big screen.

By: Michael Arceneaux

Mere days after Prince’s death, I saw speculation about who should play the iconic musician in a biopic. It is not surprising. We have ever so increasingly become a biopic friendly culture. Years before Hollywood decided to give Black cinema another go, the few Black films we were getting on the big screen were one of the three: slavery-focused, Tyler Perry-centered, or dealing with the dead.

There was already a suggestion floating around as to who should play Prince: Jussie Smollett.

I get it. Smollett is young enough to pull off a younger version of the legend. Smollett has big name recognition thanks to his role on FOX’s Empire. Smollett is a singer and dancer himself.

And anecdotally, I’ve already seen both their butts on my TV.

Still, all I could think was, “Let’s wait awhile. Before it’s too late. Let’s wait awhile. Before we go too far.”

Only a week ago did the controversial film Nina, chronicling the life of Nina Simone was released. It has been critically panned by a wide array of outlets. It has not made much money. Many of us are thrilled about this. Regardless of what she thought she was doing darkening her skin to portray Simone, Zoe Saldana should have never done this film. Regardless of what this film’s screenwriter thought she was doing creating a love story between Simone and a gay man, it was an odd choice for a movie about Simone, who represented so much more than the film suggested.

Now that the film has been defeated by critics and moviegoers alike, I wonder if Hollywood has learned anything from it. Like, the fact that Blackface will never be poppin’. That there are certain sensitivities required when trying to tell the stories of our most cherished Black entertainers. You cannot just serve audiences trash on a plate and expect us to rush for the grub. We deserve better.

I highly doubt this teaching moment will be received and will be reflected in projects going forward. So many Hollywood executives simply refuse to get it. Then again, maybe, just maybe a few have reached certain conclusions after this. Of course that is the closet idealist in me speaking, but I do have a few suggestions for those out there thinking about this movie on the Purple One.

I’m sure there are some folks out there already twiddling their thumbs at the thought of a movie about enigmatic singer. Pace yourself. Let us all simply just miss Prince. Ask yourself if you can tell a story about Prince worthy of the big screen.

If not, break your keyboard. The people behind Nina did not make the proper calculations and made absolute fools out of all parties involved. Plus, Prince would probably haunt folks in their nightmares for screwing it up. He was wonderfully petty like that. Respect.

Remember the musical legend by diving into the vault for his VERY FIRST televised interview in 1985.