A new film directed by a White woman who claims to be Nina Simone’s number one fan aims to achieve what America couldn’t achieve while Nina was alive-the total erasure of the Empress of Activist-Cool from her own Black image-an image so subversive and counter culture in its dark Negroid-ness that the challenge of living it imbued Nina with a justifiably rebellious and outspoken symphony of under-dog passions; all of it expressed through grandly operatic musical masterpieces, scornfully bold and unrepentant public truth-telling, beautifully Afro-sculptural body posturing, and most of all, Nina’s defiant love for herself and for her people’s political well-being. Nina Simone was no ordinary jazz stylist, woman or public figure. Everything about her was intelligence married to fire. She was charismatic, eccentric and Queenly. And above all else-she was the moving embodiment of raw cultured Blackness.
This is why it’s truly a milestone in revisionist history and Hollywood Colorism that the unauthorized film so disingenuously titled “NINA” casts the typical BET-caliber privileged but talented light skinned actress-in this case not Halle Berry or Thandie Newton, but up and coming go-to-Princess Zoe Saldana, a valiant self-proclaimed Latina of African descent via the Dominican Republic as Nina Simone.
I’ve always liked Zoe Saldana. You could even say that I was a big fan. But since the “Nina” controversy I’ve lost respect for her.
The film’s White woman director (bursting with good intentions as white women always are) unwittingly demonstrates why White women and Black women have not been able to forge a true sisterhood-the white sister can’t see the Black sister’s reality even when staring straight at her. And because of that inability to see us, the image chosen to represent Nina becomes a mocking dehumanization, an erasure of Nina’s swarthy and robust Black victory. Everything Nina stood for while surviving in that Black body becomes whitened and desensitized by the cloying signature of dishonesty. But of course, White people are making this film for White people anyway. None of these films from “Django Unchained” to “Nina” give a care about the Black people they’re depicting. They’d cast Adele (the overrated twang crooner) as Nina if they thought they could get away with it. As an African-born woman, not a true Westerner, I feel completely comfortable stating what’s obvious-that it matters that the woman who plays Nina Simone be dark enough. And that it matters that she have ties to the American Southern States (Dixie they call it). It matters that she be grounded in the lacerating reality of America’s unrelenting anti-Black woman imaging and socialization.
How someone claiming to love Nina and wanting to honor Nina could fail to see the importance in that is beyond my comprehension. I detest Cynthia Mort. I suspect Capitalism and typical Miss Anne entitlement and delusion are her real conduits.
Of course many people disagree with me. The argument goes that we’re denying Zoe Saldana her own Black identity and a chance to win an Oscar. But then photos are released showing Saldana on the set “as Nina” and wonder of wonders-she’s done up in Black face like a minstrel imitating a Black person! She’s got dentures, a prosthetic nose, Afro wig-begging the question-why didn’t they just cast a sensible choice like Kimberly Elise, Yolanda Ross (Stranger Inside), India Arie or Nina’s personal pick Whoopi Goldberg in the first place?
Some say it’s because Saldana is a proven box-office star after playing in several Hollywood action films. But I say recent two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis is just as hot and that Viola’s film “The Help” grossed twice as much as Saldana’s last two films, “Columbiana” and “The Words”-combined. So who’s the hot property? And just think about it. If Viola Davis starred as “NINA,” she’d put her foot in the pot and come up with yet another Oscar nomination if not an outright win. The publicity from that would drive up the box-office and DVD sales. They’d have a hit and a prestige picture in one. Or imagine if cultural genius Lauryn Hill had a notion to use this as a showy comeback vehicle-or if the ravishingly beautiful and hungry-for-a-chance newcomer Adepero Oduye (Pariah) got to dazzle us with her too often unemployed brilliance. But with Saldana, all the filmmakers have is unforgiving rage from the one group of people that can make this film flop simply by refusing to show up-Black women. And I can promise you right now, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Black American women are tired of the colorist Hollywood caste system. They love Nina Simone religiously. They know that Nina’s daughter Simone was not asked to be a consultant or even contacted to give her blessing. They know the leading man that Nina falls in love with in the film was a strict homosexual in real life and that his reality, too, is being erased for the purpose of making a quick buck instead of art with integrity. They aren’t dumb enough to pay their hard earned money to be so degraded and erased from their own historical imprint. Cynthia Mort’s film will flop, because enough of us have vowed to make it flop. But what a wasted opportunity! Imagine if they’d done this thing right and put the real “NINA” in the moan. Imagine if they hadn’t rendered Nina invisible in her own story. With Viola Davis, Lauryn Hill or Yolanda Ross as Nina, it would have become a classic.
( originally featured on Shine from Yahoo!: http://shine.yahoo.com/beauty/celebrity-author-38-egyptian-sudanese-womanist-kola-boof-045300398.html )