Zoe Saldana and the Disrespect of Nina Simone

October 23rd, 2012

(Photos from left: Monty Fresco/Evening Standard/Getty Images, Courtesy of IndieWire)

By Arielle Loren

The picture has gone viral. Zoe Saldana has been spotted in her new role as Nina Simone in blackface, an Afro wig and prosthetic nose. Her head is down, likely not on purpose, but it seems to be quite a metaphor for how many Nina fans are feeling about her casting. Saldana is an incredibly talented actress and it’s probably every black actress’ dream to play the music icon. But this is a role that she should’ve passed on, not simply because she doesn’t physically resemble the legend but also because it’s clear the director has no respect for Simone’s legacy.

In an interview with EBONY.com, Nina Simone’s daughter, Simone, expressed her outrage at the unauthorized biopic that went through the back door to do a film about her mother without her consent or involvement. While she respects and loves Zoe Saldana, she feels her casting was a slight to the many dark women who already have trouble finding high quality work in Hollywood beyond being the “help.”

Admittedly, the role was previously given to Mary J. Blige. However, Simone, a Broadway actress herself, would’ve preferred Kimberly Elise or Viola Davis, if her input had been given any consideration. Currently, the film is being made through the story rights of Nina’s male nurse turned manager, who was rumored to also be her lover.

Clearly, there’s a lot of drama surrounding the film. But this is clear: seeing Saldana as Nina was not a good look. That picture is making the skin of black women everywhere crawl. It’s a slap to the dark skin beauty of Nina Simone and creatively undermines her legacy without getting the blessing of any of her relatives. While Nina and her daughter haven’t always been on the best of terms, a film bypassing her input with Saldana in blackface, an Afro wig and bigger nose is not a solution. In fact, it just makes the director, Cynthia Mort, look ignorant of black culture and incapable of honoring one of our greats.

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