Coffee Rhetoric: Pictures of Zoe Saldana As Nina Simone Hit the Internet

October 22, 2012

Pictures of Zoe Saldana As Nina Simone Hit the Internet


There isn't anything more I can think to say (yes there is) about the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort's fantastical interpretation of the singer's (later) life, that I haven't already stressed.

After Zoe slyly re-tweeted a fan's erroneous sentiment that backlash against her portrayal of Nina Simone was a case of "reverse-racism"-- (not sure how petitioning to see a genuine depiction of someone’s image and life qualifies as “reverse-racism”, particularly since the actress chosen to play her identifies as black) -- it pretty much justified what this film really is: a farce-in-the-making. 

Needless to say pictures of Zoe Saldana, reportedly on the set of the biopic in question, have surfaced across social media platforms and I’m not quite sure what to make of the visuals. Aside from feeling dissatisfied with the mediocre wig, what looks like dark(er) makeup (aka Blackface), and possibly prosthetic teeth and/or nose, I’m still even more unconvinced.'




Rather than cast a capable actress who'd be able to convincingly play the role and who fits the phenotype Nina Simone fought so vehemently to defend, this is what we’re presented with so far. But one can’t be all that surprised, considering Cynthia Mort has opted to take excessive creative license with the story to begin with; so I suppose Nina’s fans shouldn't expect the filmmaker to oblige them with any semblance of authenticity to her image. 

Also, people who espouse the same rhetoric as Zoe has done and *continues to do, are complicit in this system of erasure. Because she continues to guzzle the proverbial Kool-Aid by gas-lighting other black actresses who have a difficult time navigating the film industry and who aren't as prolific, because they don’t pass muster on the “safe” list of adjectives executives and casting agents defer to when they’re casting roles for women of color with darker skin, natural hair, and Afrocentric features. Zoe will always be bankable because while she has brown skin and is a moderately decent actress, she’s still a multicultural black (Afro-Latina) woman who puts casting directors’ minds at ease because of her decidedly more palatable features. And to those struggling black actresses she deemed as lazy in that September 2011 issue of Ebony, I'm sure they'd love to be able to benefit from the same opportunities she reaps (i.e. plum roles like Nina Simone), if given a fair chance. 

But alas, regardless of what I or any other people think of Cynthia Mort's offering, the film is still being made, promoted, and shown in theaters. How black audiences receive the film and whether they will spend money to support it still remains to be seen. And while I am beyond appreciative of the work filmmaker Ava DuVernay and AFFRM are spearheading and hope it prompts more screenwriters and filmmakers to take control of our stories, contribute to a growing black film infrastructure, and to tell those stories with integrity; it still doesn't mean people are wrong or out of order for challenging the mainstream film industry and media for continuing to disregard and exclude a certain subset of black actresses because of how they look or where they fall within Hollywood's hierarchy of what's considered "hot".

So, curiouser and curiouser… down the rabbit hole we continue to plunge, to see how things continue to unfold with this controversial Nina Simone biopic. Make of these pictures of Zoe Saldana in a bad Afro wig and blackface, what you will.
*Post updated to include Zoe Saldana's recent comments about race and ethnicity.