Zoë Saldana, Emma Stone & More Stars Who Addressed Their Casting Controversies

Saldana said of her portrayal of Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic, Nina, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I know better today, and I'm never going to do that again."

01 of 11

Zoë Saldana

Zoe Saldana Nina Simone
Zoe Saldana; Nina Simone.

In 2016, Saldana came under fire after playing the legendary jazz singer and civil rights advocate, Nina Simone, in the biopic, Nina.

Now, she is apologizing for accepting the role, darkening her skin and wearing a prosthetic nose to look more like Simone, who died in 2003.

Saldana, who is Afro-Latinx of Dominican, Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, spoke to Pose creator Steven Canals about portraying the singer in an interview on Bese.

"I should have never played Nina," Saldana said. "I should have done everything in my power with the leverage that I had 10 years ago, which was a different leverage, but it was leverage nonetheless."

She continued, "I should have done everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman."

Saldana went on to explain her reasoning for accepting the role and why she understands that it was wrong. "I thought back then that I had the permission [to play her] because I was a Black woman. And I am. But it was Nina Simone. And Nina had a life and she had a journey that should have been — and should be — honored to the most specific detail because she was a specifically detailed individual. She deserved better."

Crying, Saldana added, "With that said: I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I know better today, and I'm never going to do that again."

02 of 11

Halle Berry

Halle Berry
Halle Berry. Amy Sussman/Getty

After revealing she was considering portraying a transgender man in an upcoming film role, the actress apologized for her remarks.

In an Instagram Live interview with hairstylist Christin Brown, Berry revealed that she was excited for an upcoming role, explaining, "[It's] a character where the woman is a trans character, so she's a woman that transitioned into a man. She's a character in a project I love that I might be doing."

"I want to experience that world, understand that world. I want to deep dive in that in the way I did Bruised," Berry continued. "Who this woman was is so interesting to me, and that will probably be my next project, and that will require me cutting all of my hair off."

"That's what I want to experience and understand and study and explore," Berry said, before claiming that the story revolving around the transgender male character was a "female story."

"It's really important to me to tell stories, and that's a woman, that's a female story," she said. "It changes to a man, but I want to understand the why and how of that. I want to get into it."

Berry has since apologized, stating, "I had the opportunity to discuss my consideration of an upcoming role as a transgender man, and I'd like to apologize for those remarks."

The actress said that she was no longer considering the role: "As a cisgender woman, I now understand that I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories."

"I am grateful for the guidance and critical conversation over the past few days and I will continue to listen, educate and learn from this mistake. I vow to be an ally in using my voice to promote better representation on-screen, both in front of and behind the camera," she finished her statement.

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Julianne Moore


Moore told Variety that she has some regrets about playing a lesbian character in the 2010 film, The Kids Are All Right.

Moore said, "I've thought about that a lot. Here we were, in this movie about a queer family, and all of the principal actors were straight. I look back and go, 'Ouch. Wow.' I don't know that we would do that today, I don't know that we would be comfortable. We need to give real representation to people, but I'm grateful for all of the experiences that I've had as an actor because my job is to communicate a universality of experience to the world. The idea that, rather than othering people, we're saying we're all the same. Our humanity is shared."

04 of 11

Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate
Jenny Slate. Mark Davis/Getty

Slate, who voiced the character of Missy — a biracial tween on the animated Netflix series Big Mouth — revealed that she "can no longer" play the role.

"At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play 'Missy' because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I. But 'Missy' is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people," Slate wrote on Instagram.

Slate went on to say that her original reasoning was "flawed," explaining, "it existed as an example of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing 'Missy,' I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people. Ending my portrayal of 'Missy' is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions."

While Slate admitted that she "can't change the past" in regards to "mistakes" she's made when it comes to her career in comedy, she can "take accountability" for her choices.

"I will continue to engage in meaningful anti-racist action, to be thoughtful about the messages in my work, to be curious and open to feedback, and to do my best to take responsibility for the ways that I am part of the problem," Slate continued.

She concluded: "Most importantly, though, to anyone that I've hurt: I am so very sorry. Black voices must be heard. Black Lives Matter."

05 of 11

Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell
Kristen Bell. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Bell was slated to voice the role of Molly Tillerman, who is mixed race, on Josh Gad's Apple TV+ series Central Park.

Bell and Gad announced in June 2020 in a statement shared to their respective Instagram accounts that the actress will no longer be playing the role.

"Kristen Bell is an extraordinary talented actress who joined the cast of Central Park from nearly the first day of the show's development — before there was even a character for her to play — and she has since delivered a funny, heartfelt, and beautiful performance," the statement began.

"But after reflection, Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognizes that the casting of the character of Molly is an opportunity to get representation right — to cast a Black or mixed race actress and give Molly a voice that resonates with all of the nuance and experiences of the character as we've drawn her," it continued.

While Bell will no longer play Molly moving forward, she "will continue to be a part of the show in a new role," the statement said, "but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly."

"We profoundly regret that we might have contributed to anyone's feeling of exclusion or erasure," it read. "Black people and people of color have worked and will continue to work on Central Park but we can do better. We're committed to creating opportunities for people of color and Black people in all roles, on all our projects — behind the mic, in the writers room, in production, and in post-production. Animation will be stronger for having as many voices, experiences, and perspectives as we can possibly bring into the industry."

It concluded: "Our shop and our show will be better for respecting the nuances and complexity around the issue of representation and trying to get it right."

In addition to the statement, Bell wrote in the caption of her Instagram, "This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege."

"Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience," she said. "It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion."

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Tilda Swinton

HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 20: Actress Tilda Swinton attends the premiere of Disney And Marvel Studios' 'Doctor Strange' on October 20, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Swinton took on the part of The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, a role that is traditionally portrayed as an Asian man in the comics.

After some backlash, Marvel issued a statement saying, "Marvel has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films and regularly departs from stereotypes and source material to bring its MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] to life. The Ancient One is a title that is not exclusively held by any one character, but rather a moniker passed down through time, and in this particular film the embodiment is Celtic."

Swinton gave a statement of her own in regards to her casting, saying, "Anybody calling for more accurate representation of the diverse world we live in has got me standing right beside them. I think when people see this film, they're going to see that it comes from a very diverse place, in all sorts of ways. Maybe this misunderstanding around this film has been an opportunity for that voice to be heard, and I'm not against that at all. But I do think that when people see the film, they'll see that it's not necessarily a target for that voice."

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Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson. Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Johansson has been at the center of casting controversies a few times throughout her career.

In 2018, the actress was attached to a film that portrayed real-life trans man Dante "Tex" Gill in the movie Rub & Tug. She initially pushed back at the criticism, but then dropped out of the film.

Her comments from an interview with As If magazine about the role were largely circulated online. In the interview she was quoted as saying, "You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job. I feel like it's a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions."

Johansson insisted the comment was taken out of context, but eventually clarified her remarks to EW saying, "The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art."

She continued, "I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness. That is the point I was making, albeit didn't come across that way. I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cis gendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to. I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included."

Johansson also faced backlash when she was cast in Ghost in the Shell, a movie based on an anime and manga series which starred a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi.

In an interview with Good Morning America in 2017, the actress told Michael Strahan, "I think this character is living a very unique experience in that she has a human brain in an entirely machinate body. She's essentially identity-less," Johansson said. "I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously. Hopefully, any question that comes up of my casting will be answered by audiences when they see the film."

08 of 11

Ed Skrein

Ed Skrein
Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty

The actor was set to appear as Major Ben Daimio in the 2019 Hellboy reboot, but dropped out of the film when he realized the comic book character was of Asian descent.

"I accepted the role unaware that the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage. There has been intense conversation and understandable upset since [the casting] announcement, and I must do what I feel is right," Skrein said in a statement he shared on Twitter.

"It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voice in the Arts. I feel it is important to honour and respect that. Therefore I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately," he went on. "It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity."

Hawaii Five-O actor Daniel Dae Kim took over the role of Daimio.

09 of 11

Emma Stone

Emma Stone
Emma Stone. Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Louis Vuitton

Stone came under fire for her 2015 role in Aloha, in which she played Allison Ng, a character of Hawaiian and Asian heritage.

The actress acknowledged that the controversy had opened her eyes to Hollywood's rampant whitewashing problem.

"I've become the butt of many jokes," she said of the backlash. "I've learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is. It's ignited a conversation that's very important."

"The character was not supposed to look like her background which was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese," she added in defense of her casting.

Stone apologized for her part in the movie again in 2019, when Golden Globes co-host Sandra Oh joked that Crazy Rich Asians was "the first studio film with an Asian American lead since Ghost in the Shell and Aloha" during her opening monologue. "I'm sorry," the actress shouted from the audience.

Cameron Crowe, Aloha's director, issued an apology on his website. "Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice," he wrote.

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Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara
Steve Granitz/WireImage

Mara played the controversial character Tiger Lily in the 2015 film Pan and faced criticism from people who believed that the role should have gone to a person of color, as Tiger Lily is a Native American woman.

Mara told PEOPLE at the film's premiere in October 2015 that the backlash "wasn't great," adding, "I felt really bad about it."

The actress explained, "It was something that I thought about before I met with Joe [Wright]. When I met with Joe and heard what his plans for it were, it was something I really wanted to be a part of.

"But I totally sympathize with why people were upset and feel really bad about it," she added.

Mara also told PEOPLE that she relates to her character because "I think we're both very independent women who can hold their own. We don't need a man to save us."

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Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck. Desiree Navarro/WireImage

Affleck played CIA agent Antonio "Tony" Mendez in Argo — which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2013 — but the role did not come without criticism. Tony Mendez is Latino, and Affleck is not.

Director Affleck said in a statement to the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), "You know, I obviously went to Tony and sought his approval…was the first thing. And Tony does not have, I don't know what you would say, a Latin/Spanish accent, of any kind really, and… you know you wouldn't necessarily select him out of a line of ten people and go 'This guy's Latino.' So I didn't feel as though I was violating some thing, where, here's this guy who's clearly ethnic in some way and it's sort of being whitewashed by Ben Affleck the actor. I felt very comfortable that if Tony was cool with it, I was cool with it."

Mendez himself did not have an issue with the casting, telling NBC, "I don't think of myself as a Hispanic. I think of myself as a person who grew up in the desert. If I had been in a different family circumstance, I might have felt that way. But, mostly, my family was at odds with each other in a playful way, they weren't talking about heritage in that regard."

Mendez added, "What I already knew about Ben was that he was a real diligent creator down to the fine nobs in the clumps of dirt and so forth, that he was real. What I found about him when he's acting is that he does the same kind of due diligence on the part he's playing. A lot of things I kind of discovered about myself he had already up picked on and was portraying them on the screen."

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