for months, the media has been buzzing with the controversy surrounding actress zoe saldana being cast as nina simone in nina’s upcoming biopic. many have criticized saldana for accepting the role despite very little resemblance to nina simone. i’ve consciously stayed out of this media melee, instead using it as an opportunity to evaluate my personal preconceptions about colorism and black hair. however, shock entered my body when i saw the image below; i have to share some thoughts.
nina simone was most famous from the 1950-1970s for her music and activism. she was well-known for fighting the music industry’s condemnation for her dark skin and natural hair. in fact, her hair, complexion and african-inspired style were political statements that she used to present her progressive socio-political analysis to the world. her daughter, simone kelly, told ebony magazine that kimberly elise or viola davis would have been great selections to portray her mother in a film.
well, director cynthia mort did not cast kimberly or elise, but instead zoe saldana. while filming the actress is adorned with a prosthetic nose, dark makeup and an afro wig — i gasped when i saw the picture. squinting at the computer screen, my brain immediately brought forth a comparison of al jolson’s minstrel show. with this country’s history of racism and black face performances, zoe’s use of dark makeup and a prosthetic nose is extremely disturbing. why go to such lengths when an actress who actually resembles nina could have been chosen?
to make matter’s worse, simone kelly claims the director did not consult her or other family members about the script or casting for the film. in response, simone stated “if any of us tried to take the story of bing crosby or dean martin or frank sinatra or elvis presley and turn it into something that was a tall tale based on something that never happened, i doubt that we’d get very far.” good point. i wonder what would happen if tyler perry created an elvis biopic and cast andy garcia as elvis?