with people around the world uniting for the black lives matter movement, this summer is the perfect time to celebrate one of the greatest musicians and revolutionaries of the 20th century. what happened, miss simone? was released on netflix friday and is an intimate view into the nina simone’s life. using previously unreleased footage, letters and interviews with close family and friends, the singer-songwriter’s words and life are just as relevant now as they were the day dr. martin luther king jr. was murdered.
hip hop artist j. cole has released a heartfelt song titled “be free” in response to mike brown’s murder. reminsicent of nina simone, he sings “can you tell me why/every time i step outside i see my niggas die?/ i’m letting you know, that it ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul…” the song gave me chills.
here’s what he had to say on his blog:
There was a time in my life when I gave a fuck. Every chance I got I was screaming about it. I was younger. It’s so easy to try to save the world when you’re in college. You got nothing but time and no responsibility. But soon life hits you. No more dorms, no more meal plan, no more refund check. Nigga need a job. Nigga got rent. Got car note. Cable bill. Girlfriend moves in and becomes wife. Baby on the way. Career advances. Instagram is poppin. Lebron leaves Miami. LIFE HITS. We become distracted. We become numb. I became numb. But not anymore. That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend. I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a fuck if it’s by police or peers. This shit is not normal.
I made a song. This is how we feel.
slow clap for a black artist who’s motivated to use his influence as an entertainer for his community’s well-being. salute j. cole.
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.
i love dance. notice i stated “i love dance” and not “i love to dance.” the thing is, i appreciate and admire the art form of dance above all others, but i also recognize my very limited ability to actually dance.
one halloween, my mother made me the best costume imaginable: pink leotard, white tights, and a homemade pink tutu. now, at ten-years old and 5’8” tall, i’m sure i looked ridiculous in this getup, but on october 31, 1992, i was surely destined for the new york city ballet. unfortunately, i’ve never taken a dance class in my life and have not one ounce of natural talent; therefore, my dreams of becoming a professional dancer didn’t last long. however, i never let go of my fascination with not just ballet, but tap, jazz, african, and modern dance.
before you ask, no, this isn’t a story about shattered childhood dreams. i’ll save that narrative for a therapist. instead, i recognize that my love for the arts wasn’t nurtured for reasons beyond my control. there were extremely limited opportunities for black girls to study dance in polk county, florida in the 80s and early 90s. in fact, there was only one black student at the dance studio in my small town, largely because working-class black girls like myself couldn’t afford the fees. also, the curriculum lacked any type of cultural relevance.
so what about little black girls who want to be ballerinas in 2012? ballet remains a notoriously lily white and racially prejudicial art form. groundbreaking black ballerina misty copeland (shown above) speaks about the racism she’s experienced as the first black woman to serve as soloist for the american ballet theatre. i watched her videos with tears in my eyes.
austin’s china smith and her dance studio ballet afrique are opening ballet to a wider demographic. her studio mixes ballet and traditional african dance, working to demolish the presiding belief that only white girls from the well-to-do side of town deserve to train as classical dancers. ballet afrique could very well be training the next tiger woods or venus and serena williams of dance. check out the video of the adult company’s tribute to four women by nina simone. bravo to brown skin, natural hair, and thick silhouettes.