I did as a I normally do. For weeks now, I sat back and listened to people cry foul because Zoe Saldana landed the leading role as Nina Simone in an upcoming bipoic about the late jazz singer. Some arguments have been convincing, but not enough to make a strong case against Saldana’s portrayal of Simone.
I could be biased because I am a huge fan of Saldana’s work. But, I think she is immensely talented and versatile. Her resume ranges from roles as a bratty daddy’s girl in an interracial relationship in, Guess Who, to an alien who spoke a foreign tongue in, Avatar, and then as a vengeful “superhero” in Colombiana (I didn’t hear any Colombians crying foul because Zoe is Dominican *shrugs*). Here are some of the arguments that have been presented, and my answer to them below:
“Zoe Saldana doesn’t look like Nina Simone”
No one looks exactly like the person they are portraying in most films. A good example would be Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. They didn’t even TRY to match Holiday’s overall look in casting Ms. Ross. Even still, typically, drastic weight loss/gain, prosthetic features, and even camera tricks are used to make the portrayal believable, and by the looks of things, Zoe’s transformation has been outstanding. She achieved the look by darkening her skin, wearing a fake nose, and gaining some weight, not by any means considered drastic changes to anyone’s person.
“There are other actresses who closely resemble Nina Simone that should have gotten the role”
Who? I’ll wait…
“Zoe is Dominican of African descent and that is completely different from being African American”
Who cares? If they had put a White woman in blackface, only then would this be an issue for me. A talented actress should and can play characters from different backgrounds and cultures. Does one have to be able to relate to the Black struggle to play a Black woman? Idris Elba is from London , England, but has played in films which attempted to demonstrate the “plight of the Black man.” Besides, living in America, I’m certain Zoe is all too familiar with “our” struggle because regardless of what country or region of that country she is from, she’s still Black.
Prior to Zoe landing the role, it was rumored that Mary J. Blige was being considered. People were all for that and she’s not even an actress. I would rather a phenomenal actress portray Nina Simone, than a mediocre singer just because she’s a couple shades darker.
Nina Simone, of whom I am also a fan spoke fluent French. I even learned “Ne Me Quitte Pas” because I was so moved by the song even though I could not understand what it meant until I sought out its English translation. So, does this information further complicate the search? Must we now find a Black actress who speaks French who can sing to make the actress who portrays Simone “believable?”
Black people constantly speak against racism and colorism, but it is most prevalent in our own community. We are the main ones differentiating between light and dark skin, good hair and bad hair, but in the same breath state that a woman should be denied a role because she is not dark enough, or her nose isn’t big enough, which essentially means, she’s not Black enough.
What are your thoughts on the controversy behind Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone? Does it matter that she is not African American?