When pictures first appeared online of Zoe Saldana wearing Black face and a prosthetic nose on the set of Nina, the Internet and I shared the same reaction: what the entire fuck?!
I don’t know Nina Simone, but I am well aware of her unequivocal love for all things Black because it well-documented in her music, speech and being. She walked in her Blackness and basked in it.
In one of her most iconic interviews she says:
I think what you are trying to ask is why am I so insistent in giving out to them that black-ness, that black-power, that black…pushing them to identity with Black culture. I think that’s what you’re asking. It’s…I have no choice over it in the first place.To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the whole world. Black people.
Her Negro nose was considered too big by Hollywood’s standards and her lips triple the size of her White counterparts. Nina’s daughter Kelly told The New York Times, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark.”
The same systematic racism Nina fought against during her time on this earth is now happening to her posthumously. The trailer for Nina — a biopic that explores Nina’s music, passion for politics, turbulent battle with alcohol and depression through the lens of her assistant-turned-manager Clifton Henderson (played by David Oyelowo) — was released this morning and it reiterates everything wrong with Hollywood.
Zoe Saldana dons darker makeup and a prosthetic nose in the visuals. Someone on my Facebook timeline wrote, “She looks more like Sony Carson than Nina.” We can laugh, but it’s true.
Zoe’s transformation is comical and could have been avoided had someone with a mere brain cell opted to cast a Black woman with natural Nina-like features. Were all the Black actresses, with natural Negro noses with Jackson 5 nostrils (Beyonce reference) unavailable?
The argument stands — is an Afro-Latina Saldana Black enough to play Nina Simone? Let’s take into account her asinine comments on ethnicity, such as, “there is no such thing as people of color.” She sounds like one of those “new Blacks,” who want to be everything but Black.
‘I find it uncomfortable to have to speak about my identity all of the time, when in reality it’s not something that drives me or wakes me up out of bed everyday.’
And therein lies the problem. I don’t question Zoe Saldana is Black. Clearly she is a brown girl. But do I think she is as consumed by her Blackness as Nina Simone? Hell no. And it is Nina Simone’s unabashed love for her Black culture that makes her a Black treasure and we can’t fathom anyone with wavering Blackness stepping into her Black role.
Zoe is effortless at playing blue and green characters a la Avatar and Guardians Of The Galaxy, but when it comes to playing a Black woman, it feels first as seen in the ridiculous Nina trailer. Not to mention, we’re not exactly compelled by her level of acting.
In an interview with BET, Zoe revealed she originally turned the the film down because she thought they should have cast someone “more physically right for the part.” Zoe blamed political obstacles for why it’s taken so long for the project to be released.
Fast forward to early last year, when controversy surrounding Michael B. Jordan being cast as the human torch in most recent Fantastic 4 installment. Zoe then made comments on Hollywood’s tradition of whitewashing ethnic characters.
‘If we question why Michael has been cast to play the Human Torch in ‘Fantastic Four’ then we must also question why Elizabeth Taylor played ‘Cleopatra,’ why Angelina Jolie played Mariane Pearl in ‘A Mighty Heart,’ why Laurence Olivier played Othello, Burt Lancaster in Apache, and the list goes on….and on…. And on… Let’s not throw rocks when we all live in glass houses.’
Zoe is clearly oblivious to her own European features that make her racially acceptable to a traditionally Xenophobic Hollywood.
I do believe Zoe means well. “I know what Nina Simone means to me,” she said.
But ultimately, she should have left the opportunity open to another Black actress, who could have done the role justice. Hollywood used her as a pawn to further the film, instead of enlisting a newcomer. I wish Zoe would have known this and offered her services in the production department.
So who would play a convincing Nina Simone? The Blackest motherf*cker on this planet. That’s who.
Watch the trailer, below: