Zoe Saldana defends her Nina Simone role to critics

Zoe Saldana arrives Tuesday at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Star Trek Into Darkness.'
Zoe Saldana arrives Tuesday at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Star Trek Into Darkness.'

LONDON — Zoe Saldana has played an alien and a future space traveler — but taking on the role of an actual famous person proved even harder.

The 34-year-old star of Avatar and Star Trek Into Darkness plays pianist, singer, and activist Nina Simone in the forthcoming biopic Nina.

Her casting drew criticism from some, who argued that Saldana bears little resemblance to the singer, who died in 2003 at 70.

Musician India.Arie said “they should have chosen someone who looks like Nina Simone,” and an online petition for a boycott of the film attracted more than 10,000 signatures.

But Saldana said she feels strongly that she’s right to play Simone, an immense, irascible talent who made an indelible mark on both music and the civil rights movement with songs including “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and “Mississippi Goddam.”

“The Nina Simone story needed to be told, and I’m really blessed that I did it,” said Saldana, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent.

“I’m human. I wish I was made of steel and so certain things wouldn’t affect me,” Saldana said at a recent London event to promote Star Trek Into Darkness, in which she plays multilingual communications officer Lt. Uhura. 

No big deal

Stand-up comic Bill Maher laughed off a feud with Wayne Brady after the comic-actor suggested in a HuffPost Live interview Tuesday that he would beat him up for a throwaway line Maher made about President Obama being too much Wayne Brady and not enough Jay-Z.

“I don’t know where this comes from ... these people like Wayne Brady and Donald Trump, these people who just want to have feuds,” Maher said in a Wednesday afternoon interview with The Blade to promote his June 15 performance at the Stranahan Theater. “I have no beef with Wayne Brady. I guess I referenced him in something with Obama and ... it was probably an off-the-cuff remark.”

In the HuffPost Live interview, Brady said he respected Maher as a comic, “and what he does on HBO is great, but when he starts to drag me into his cultural linchpin of ‘not black enough’ argument that’s bull.”

Brady said he spoke with Maher about the joke previously, and suggested the next time the two met he would give the comic the “stereotypical” black experience and beat him up in public, but Maher never responded.

Maher said his remark was made several years ago, during President Obama’s first term in office, and that he found Brady’s threat ironic “because I think I was referencing him in the sense that he was the person who was like the most amenable person. ... Anyway, I am not trying to offend you, Mr. Brady. I’m really not.”

Center of attention

For the third year in a row, the downtown Toledo arena Huntington Center has been named by Venues Today as the top midwest venue in the nation in the 5,000-10,000 seat category.

This honor is for March 1, 2012, to Feb. 28, 2013 and during that period gross ticket sales at Huntington Cener were more than 2.5 times that of the second place venue.

Venues Today is a concert industry magazine and the midwest venues are those in Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

“I want to thank everyone who has attended an event at Huntington Center in our first few years. This is an award the entire community should be proud of. Your support has been tremendous,” Huntington general manager Steve Miller said in a news release.

Cash crop?

NEW YORK — The Grammy Award-winning comedy duo Cheech and Chong based their 42-year career on counterculture humor with a particular emphasis on marijuana use. But these days Tommy Chong sees the recreational drug as something more than fodder for jokes about stoned hippies.

The 74-year-old comedian thinks legalizing marijuana on a federal level would offer numerous benefits, including a boost to the U.S. economy if it were taxed.

“Look at the situation we’re in now. Sequesters. Cuts. Everything cut across the board. Now, the government is tapped into the biggest cash crop in the world,” Chong said. 

“There’s little manufacturing cost. You don’t have to do anything except watch it grow and get a couple of hippies to cut it and then put it in a bag.”