What I'm Going to Do Instead Of See Nina

No I'm going to see that pathetic excuse of a Nina Simone biopic. Like others, I was offended and disgusted with the casting and make up job of Zoe Saldana. Her skin looks like it was caked with cheap press powder. And her afro wig sits on her head like a black ball of styrofoam. My disappointment with Saldana being cast has nothing to do with her being Afro-Latina. There are Afro Latinas who look like Nina Simone. And there are talented black actresses who resemble Nina (Viola Davis, India Arie, Adepero Oduye, Uzo Aduba) that could've been cast.

One of the reasons why The People v. O.J. Simpson was so believable is the the casting. The show's creators not only sought good actors, but they cast people who resembled the key players from the trial. As a family member of someone portrayed in the film, I liked that Sterling K. Brown's costume and makeup made him look very close to my dad. I totally understand why some of Nina Simone's relatives are upset with the casting and her appearance.

We know this is an issue of colorism, or discrimination against a person because their skin complexion or hue. For those who don't get colorism, watch the Dark Girls documentary and listen to my story. Also watch Light Girls because colorism affects them too. It's sad that the filmmakers found Nina to be so extraordinary, yet her dark skin wasn't good enough. Basically it's like they said to her, "You're great, but you would even be better if you were lighter." "We want to celebrate you, but a lighter version of you." They're lack of understanding why people are upset, including Zoe Saldana, tells me they didn't understand Nina and her racial politics. It also tells me they don't even get Black beauty and couldn't honor her dark skin, full lips, wide nose and kinky hair. All features that aren't considered beautiful in mainstream, white culture.

Nina Simone was an amazing, complex woman. Her issues with racism, sexism, mental health, abuse, love, etc. are not something that anyone who wants to make a movie for the hell of it should tackle. If the filmmakers are going to misrepresent her appearance, then I don't trust them to tell her story. Plus I take issue with them portraying her nurse as her lover, when the family says he was an openly gay man. So they invisibilized a dark-skinned black woman and a gay black man.

Instead of spending a movie ticket on this disgrace, I'm supporting black women artists. I bought a book of poetry by a Bay Area poet named Mk Chavez. Her work is beautiful and I've admired her since the first time I heard her read a year or two ago. Her collection Mothermorphosis is about growing up with a mother who has schizophrenia and mothering. Also if you're in the Bay Area check out Echo Brown's Black Virgins are Not for Hipsters, which is playing at the Marsh in Berkeley. Buy a sista's book, album or artwork. Go see a play at your community theatre that portrays black life with dignity. Go to a poetry reading or a book signing. Buy a Nina Simone album.

The good thing about this backlash is that I hope it inspires a filmmaker who truly cares about Nina Simone to do her story justice on the big screen.

Comments

  1. DO WHAT? They cast Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone??? What a horrible casting decision. I'm not 100% percent sold on Zoe as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy (because Gamora was a bustier, curvy comic book character). Omg. What a pile of crap!!!

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    1. That's interesting you mention her being cast to play Gamora. I haven't heard anyone complain about her in that role. But I'm not a Guardians of the Galaxy fan like others.

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  2. I live in India and it's shocking how most of us are hung up on fairness. We must be the world's biggest consumers for fairness creams. Who defines beauty, I always wonder?

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    1. Hi Corinne,
      I've read articles and watched documentaries about how colorism and the desire for fairness affects people in India as well. I don't know about the media in India, but here if the people on TV and movies who are desired, the love interest, the heroes are always white, I can see why people want to look like them. There's a saying in the African-American community, "If you're light, you're alright. If you're brown stick around. If you're black, stay back."

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