A film dramatising the life of singer Nina Simone is to be released in April, but the movie – and its star – are embroiled in controversy. Zoe Saldana will play the Grammy-nominated singer and rights activist who died in 2003 in France.

British actor David Oyelowo will co-star as Clifton Henderson – Simone’s friend and assistant.

Some critics have roundly condemned the casting of Saldana – a light-skinned actress – to play Simone, a woman of proud black African heritage. Reports suggest Saldana had her face blackened and nose altered to play the role.

Stuff.co.nz reports Saldana’s heritage as a mixture of Dominican, Puerto Rican, Haitian and Lebanese.

Nina Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, previously criticised the casting of Saldana to play her mother. In 2012, when the actress was first attached to the role, Kelly is reported to have said, regarding appearance “this is not the best choice.”

More tension surrounding the release has surfaced after an incident on Twitter recently. Saldana took to her account to quote the words of Simone: “No fear, I mean really, no fear.” The Estate of Nina Simone, in their official statement, replied that Saldana should take Simone’s name out of her mouth…” for the rest of your life.”

Reports also suggest the family of Simone are unhappy with the way the relationship between Simone and assistant Henderson is portrayed in the film.

The movie itself has suffered numerous setbacks. RLJ Entertainment originally scheduled the film for release in December 2015. The previous year, director Cynthia Mort commenced legal action over the terms of her contract. The film is finally set to be released on April 22nd.

37-year-old Saldana has enjoyed starring roles in huge movies such as Star Trek, Avatar and Colombiana. She is married with two children.

Nina Simone had a lifetime of tremendous highs and lows. One of the most recognised voices of the 60s and 70s, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1980s and was reported to have struggled with her temper for many years. To many, though, her haunting voice and stance on civil rights preserve her reputation as an ultimate 20th-century hero.