If you haven’t already heard, there’s been a lot mixed feedback to the Nina Simone documentary “Nina” set to hit theaters this December starring Zoe Saldana playing the role of the great singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone.
The role was originally set to be played by R&B singer Mary J. Blige but she later dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Zoe Saldana was then offered the role, which she continued to turn down for a year before she finally accepted. She provided her reason in an interview with InStyle magazine back in July where she stated “I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree…” Zoe received further criticism for playing the role, after photos of her on set in full dark makeup and an afro were released earlier this year. Many are opposed to her playing this role because honestly, she has no resemblance at all to Nina Simone. She is also of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, and is considered too petite and light-skinned to play Simone.
Viola Davis won this year’s Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama, making her the first African-American to win an Emmy in this category. In her speech, she said “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity”. But what happens when that opportunity presents itself, and we are still not able to take advantage of it? How does it make sense that a woman of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent can play the role of an African-American woman? To go so far as to make someone up in basically black face, rather than casting an actress who would better embody Simone’s persona is absolutely ridiculous. In our opinion, it would make more sense to cast someone who looks like Nina Simone, especially because her race played such a main role in who she was as a civil rights activist.
Nina Simone’s daughter herself, Lisa Simone Kelly, criticized the film in an interview with the L.A. Times, and decided to instead work on acclaimed Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” which was released theatrically on June 26 in Los Angeles and is currently available on Netflix. In her interview, she stated “We all have a story. My mother suffered. We can go all the way back to when she was a child and people told her her nose was too big, her skin was too dark, her lips were too wide. It’s very important the world acknowledges my mother was a classical musician whose dreams were not realized because of racism.”
Everyone knows that in order for a biopic film to be successful in the eyes of the viewers and critics, actors/actresses casted need to have 3 things; physical resemblance and the ability to mimic mannerisms and talent. The actor/actress should at least have 2 out of the 3 to be believable. Great examples of this are movies “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”, “Ray”, “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story” and most recently “Straight Outta Compton”. Biopics get the best reviews when viewers are amazed by how similar the actor is to the person they are playing. Zoe Saldana already lacks two of the three essential factors, so how is it that she could still be selected for this role?
We love Zoe Saldana as an actress and she is indeed extremely talented and beautiful. Our issue does not lie with her as a person. Our issue lies with those who made the decision to cast Zoe for this role that she does not fit. Our issue is that it is already an enormous struggle for African-American women to land great acting roles. This production adds insult to injury, because the Nina Simone story is so epic in the African-American history and culture, yet black women were still overlooked and not given a chance to play this role as rightly deserved. The pattern of overlooking black women as actresses must stop. We acknowledge that society is making progress in this aspect, but we feel that this is a major setback. If this is seen as okay, what stops another production from feeling like it’s okay to cast any actress regardless of race and skin complexion, and just slap dark make-up on her as a quick fix?
We need to let our voices be heard, and fight for the right to play in the roles that mean so much to us! Keep the #brownforbrownroles hashtag going to bring awareness to this issue!
What are your thoughts?