Zoe Saldana may be in over her head with the lead role as Nina Simone in the biopic, Nina. The casting of Zoe was immediately met with side-eyes and constructive criticism. Cynthia Mort, director and writer of the film, was called out by Nina’s daughter for not consulting her or the family to make sure Nina’s legacy was depicted accurately. The controversy spun into an even bigger debacle when pictures of Zoe on set in black face with an afro wig hit the ‘net. And it ain’t pretty.
Critics claim Nina Simone’s legacy deserves better. Frankly, it does. Critics have questioned Mort’s ability as a white woman to convey Nina’s struggles as a black woman on screen since she can’t know what it was like to experience the type of racism Nina faced in the 60s. The director has also been accused of concocting a false love story for the film to tarnish the singer’s reputation.
Although Zoe Saldana is on the receiving end of the outrage, it’s not a personal indictment against her as an actress. It would be remiss not to mention that Zoe, an Afro-Latina, is not an African-American. Furthermore, her features are nothing like Nina’s whose kinky hair, wide nose, dark skinned and African features were a large part of her identity. It was why she suffered discrimination in life and in her career–she didn’t fit America’s European standard of beauty. Zoe may not truly be able to authentically portray that on screen. Nina was also unapologetic in her blackness. Compare that to Zoe’s Ebony magazine cover story where she said, “…why the f— would I sit down and talk about how hard it is for Black women in Hollywood when there’s a Black president in my country?” Umm, but it is hard for black actresses in Hollywood, Zoe. Essence magazine did an entire cover story on this very issue with actual black actresses testifying about the limited roles for them, most of them being stereotypical. And having a black president is totally a moot point in regards to that.
In a letter on Nina Simone’s official website the content manager wrote, “People who say that Zoe’s complexion and features shouldn’t matter are ignoring the fact that they are going to such lengths to darken her skin and change her features, thereby proving those things DO matter. Since Zoe was approached for this film, it has to make you wonder why she was ever approached in the first place. Given the history of Nina Simone: her pride in being a dark skinned woman with her features while lamenting treatment based on skin tone (give Four Women a listen), plus her desire to inspire younger women with similar features – why was Zoe ever approached in the first place?”
Despite the petition, outrage, open letters and even Nina’s daughter distance from this film Zoe has remained relatively quiet outside of a problematic RT from a fan calling the petition “reverse racism.” No offense to Zoe, who is actually a good actress, but she isn’t right for this role. There are several dark skinned actresses–Viola Davis, Anika Noni Rose, Kimberly Elise, Adepero Oduye–who would not need black face for the role. This is another example of whitewashing in Hollywood. Remember Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Guess we’ll have to wait to see if people fill theater seats to watch what’s starting to look like a train wreck.
[Photo: Getty Images]
Photos of Zoe Saldana on set [Necole Bitchie]