By Lavern Merriweather:
Actress Zoe Saldana has found herself embroiled in some serious controversy recently for agreeing to play noted soul singer Nina Simone. Many black folks are up in arms about the film company’s choice to hire her and to some extent, I think they are right.
First off, it’s extremely irritating and insulting for her to have to darken her skin to embody the part. There are a number of talented dark skinned actresses that would have made a much better decision to pick.
Second, Ms. Saldana has declared in several interviews that she doesn’t consider herself a black woman. Mind you, I said a black woman, not just a black woman since she does have a multicultural ancestry. Yet, although she doesn’t think she is black she takes this role and the role of Uhura in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise. She also played the daughter of Bernie Mac in the 2010 remake of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. If Ms. Saldana doesn’t want her range of offers to be limited, then stop taking acting jobs specific to black women, especially when an acting gig requires you to black face your skin for a woman that had a lot of issues with her skin tone.
Much of Nina’s legacy as a songwriter was centered around her pain at being a severely dark woman of color in a world that hates women like that. Nina, who died sadly at 70 years old in 2003, never shied away from making the hurt she felt public knowledge. She wore it bare for all the world to see through her music in a very unapologetic fashion.
I don’t know Zoe personally, but I doubt seeing how much lighter she is that she could relate to what Ms. Simone was singing. That’s another thing they will most likely get, another woman to lip-sync for her. And really, do the studio executives funding this honestly believe that getting Zoe for the role was the best idea? She hasn’t truly pulled her acting chops by what I could see starring in stupid romantic comedies or doing voice work as a creature. I guess Zoe doesn’t see anything wrong with her other films where she doesn’t have to be the ‘black woman’. She is the color of a fucking crayon.
The reason why I am on the side of the people who didn’t want Zoe to play Nina Simone is because of Hollywhite’s notoriously bullshit attitude towards black women. (Well, all women of color, actually, but especially black women.) White males in Hollyweird prefer to pick someone that is kind of black but not too black. This means they just need her to make it look good enough as not to step on too many toes. But that is exactly what they are doing by hiring Zoe. If Nina were alive today and knew about this, she would probably go outside and practice turning over in her grave!
Little miss ‘I’m not really a Negro’ taking this role is a slap in the face to the lady who bravely dealt with the worst type of discrimination. At least 80’s multi-racial actress Rae Dawn Chong played women that were very ambiguous in their racial make-up. Yes, she did star in “The Color Purple”, but there were any number of light skinned black females that resembled her. Rae never said one thing then did another, and she certainly didn’t make a career out of playing puppets.
A memo to Zoe; if you aren’t black, then stop taking jobs from other black women who proudly identify themselves as what you refuse to. Zoe is almost as bad as that embarrassing “SNL” token that doesn’t even look like a token Maya Rudolph. Yes I know that Maya’s mom was the great Minnie Riperton and that she has a white father, which is why she has that skin color but damn! Kate Winslet makes a more convincing black woman than Maya does or Zoe for that matter.
She reminds me of NBC anchor Soledad O’ Brien in that they want to have it both ways. They want to marry white males and live like white females all while saying, Hey I’m maybe, sort of, will pretend to be black. Granted Hollywood is a place of fantasy, and I don’t for one second buy that this movie will tell Nina’s story in any way that is accurate. They already don’t respect what she stood for by who they picked to portray her. However, that doesn’t absolve Zoe who isn’t practicing what she’s preaching.
There is a very rich history to the songs that people like Nina Simone created that shouldn’t be sullied by Hollowood bigwigs. If it feels like I’m throwing shade on Zoe, then that’s precisely what I am doing. She isn’t some babe in the woods; she knows how difficult it is for other black women. She doesn’t want to be associated with them. Yet, she has no qualms always trying to steal their thunder.
I know that Ms. Saldana is not responsible for the racism hierarchy that exists in her chosen profession. What she is responsible for though is selfishly profiting from it because her skin is brighter and her figure that much smaller. Zoe’s attitude reminds me of an excellent point made by a woman in the poignant Bill Duke documentary “Dark Girls”. She said that she was so sick of black folks whining how they are Haitian or Jamaican and not black because when the Klan showed up they weren’t going to care about those folks distinctions.
I wonder how Ms. Saldana thinks she would get treated in a situation not protected by the Hollyweird limelight. Actually, now that I realize it, those feelings are IN Hollywood and come from the very white people with all the power. Whether Zoe cares to admit it that is exactly why she gets picked for the roles that she does. It’s also why much as she imagines that those white males love her, she will never be competing with the likes of Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Lawrence for the big movies. Perhaps they will suddenly decide to trade white skin for fuzzy blue fur, but I highly doubt it.