Hollywood has never been supportive or fair to the Black community, when they rewrite and tell our stories. We can go back to the early days of cinema and see most often our images, like His-Story, distorts our true reality. The black person was always the “buffoon” or the help, and this is being kind. More significant, recently there was a white actor selected to play Michael Jackson in an upcoming movie.
When it comes to our history, Black people’s contributions have been distorted to reflect the white culture’s view of it. Examples are abound; the Ten Commandments, Hannibal, or the most serious distorted depiction was Cleopatra, all played by white people, when, in fact, each were of African Descent.
Recently, the Nina Simone biopic debuted at Cannes. I was waiting for reviews to come out before writing anything about it. Now a release date is set to be released in theaters on April 22, 2016. As a result, the movie titled “Nina” has been hit with criticism from Nina Simone’s daughter and others over the casting of Zoe Saldana, mostly because the 37-year-old actress doesn’t look anything like Nina Simone.
The long and short of this post is I can remember Nina Simone and have a bit of a problem with the actress chosen to play her in the movie. I think there are a number of very talented black women, who may have been a better choice. Just to name a few, Viola Davis, Kimberly Elise, India Arie (who I think would be my first choice) or Mary J Blige would be more fitting to play the High Priestess of Soul. Since popular votes don’t guarantee selection, the outcome is already a finished product starring Zoe Saldana. I am certainly not saying Saldana is not a very good actress but in my view, she does not fit the character as well as others. I am saying, in my view, just because you can don’t mean you should. Now, with that said, I like Zoe as an actress!
I can recall listening to Nina Simone’s music; I remember seeing her face. I had a childish fixation, because of her strong personality and her being unappologenicly black. One could extend the inference of esteem extended black people. I wonder what Zoe felt inside every time she sat down and watched the make-up artist apply a prosthetic nose and darken her skin. Please take a moment to think about that process. When Zoe as Nina looks in the mirror, she is promoting mythology. Say what you want about The Great Sphinx’s missing nose, but the full lips still remain after all these centuries. A black person’s nose always gets in the way of European theory.
When I look at Nina Simone, I see a messenger with a wide nose and full lips. When I look at Zoe as Nina, I see someone in a cloak walking a windy road to an awkward redemption. I share no empathize with her being a puppet. This brings us to the supreme capitalists, who hide behind corporate curtains to profit from these deceptions. Some would say they robbed Nina’s grave, re-branded the artifacts with plans to sell and will settle all lawsuits after they count their money.
If you know or love Nina’s music, or if you dishonor her integrity means you hear her sound but not the woman of valor. What it means is that those people want soul music to be packaged in coffee bean blonde even though she told you black is the color. It means they don’t think Nina’s beautiful or glory is important, and only God knows what they think of the rest of us. This is my distain with regard to the casting. I have not seen this movie, but images are everything, and so far I feel disrespected.
Nina was not here to entertain us with dance and radio formatted songs. Her lyrics, her staging, her expressions, her espresso complexion adding another tone to the ebony and ivory, her ornaments, her natural follicles underneath the crowns adorned and the cigarette smoke she blew out her oval lips and ancient nostrils were all elements of her protest artistry.
The bottom line is that Hollywood, as it always has is driven by dollars and exploitation. I am sure Spike Lee faced a fair share of studio battles. I would venture to say that some studio executives approached him about having some white man play Malcolm X to test his integrity.
Nina Simone is dead but not gone the mind of those who knew and loved her. In the ongoing war of legacy versus exploitation, one spends a sacrificial lifetime to create a self-portrait with uncompromising colors only to have others betray your portrait with an unreal replica. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
Nina’s Family Response