Should any of us be surprised by Zoe Saldana's recent (and too late) comments about her portrayal of Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort's soon-to-be-released farce of a film, titled only "Nina"?
It's not as if shooting of the film were going to wrap up and Zoe would suddenly be all over Twitter like, "OMG y'all guess what you were right I never should've accepted that role! I realized it as soon as I sat down in that makeup chair and they started slapping black(er)face and a cheap afro wig on me! Y'all were so right!!! OMG LULZ TTYL #BIOPICFAIL"
Ok, so that's way too many characters for Twitter, but we should've expected nothing less than exactly what Zoe has said in her ego's own defense. Media outlets lapping up her brief, empty, mindless statement as if she just delivered some deep, conscientious sermon from atop the mountain is laughable. What Zoe said is the equivalent to, "Screw the haters; Imma do me."
How deep of you Zoe. How really, truly deep.
Then again, this is the same woman who in Ebony Magazine implied racism is dead in Hollywood simply because we have a black president. Furthermore, according to her, black women have no business sitting on their butts "complaining" because of all the opportunities they magically now have due to Obama. Given this, do we really expect her to grasp the subtleties of colorism? (The subtleties of colorism, mind you, from which she herself receives so much privilege and consideration.)
It's also not as if we'd expect anything less from her costars other than heaps and heaps of praise being lauded upon Zoe and her performance and her singing ability:
What do we expect from anyone involved in the project other than pure, unadulterated support and promotion of the film they themselves starred in or worked on? Again, how deep - how unexpected - how newsworthy.
People are already divided on this. I'm not going to win anyone over by pointing out how Zoe should've never received this role in the first place and how that's what we should still be discussing. People are going to hear that I'm saying Zoe isn't "dark enough" to play Nina and cry foul and feign offense and demand political correctness. People will even go as far as saying that I shouldn't say anything at all. Because it's mean to Zoe, because I'm white, because I'm a male, because I'm incorrect. Some people will actually say critics should silence ourselves simply because they disagree with us. Have they ever listened to Nina Simone?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Zoe's complexion is but a symptom of the greater, deeper, and more significant underlying problems with this film. The entire project is based upon lie after lie after lie. The fact Zoe landed the role and ended up in the makeup chair getting black(er)face applied to her is but an outward sign of the internal failures of Cynthia Mort's artistic vision.
In every conceivable way, Cynthia Mort laid claim to Nina Simone's identity and repurposed her in a manner that offended even Nina's own daughter, Simone Kelly. While folks are predictably going to defend Cynthia Mort's right to do so, other folks are rightfully going to come to the defense of Nina Simone and demand better treatment for the High Priestess of Soul. Had Cynthia Mort not gentrified Nina Simone for whatever reasons Cynthia Mort justifies doing so, we would not be having this discussion. Whether she did it for financial backing or as an extension of her own ego, had Cynthia Mort approached the subject of Nina Simone with even a modicum of respect, we would've never been forced to look at Zoe Saldana in this role.
Now Zoe finally claims to have taken on this role out of what Nina Simone means to her and out of her love for Nina Simone. Zoe and I must have completely different definitions of this meaning and love.
Respecting Nina Simone means acknowledging Nina's own words. It means you don't take Safronia and slap a bunch of dark makeup and a cheap afro wig on her so that she can masquerade around as Peaches in "honor" of Nina Simone.
Nina Simone means you do justice to Peaches by letting Peaches be Peaches. Nina Simone doesn't mean you continue to extend privilege to all the Safronias in the world simply because Safronia wants to be able to do whatever the hell Safronia wants to do without holding herself accountable for her actions (and without the world holding her accountable).
Nina Simone means you have insight, you have integrity, and you have more to say for your own actions than, "Screw all the haters; Imma do me."
Having love for Nina Simone means you don't contradict who Nina was as a woman in order to make a film about her. And it certainly means you don't exclude and offend her own daughter in the process.
I'm not sure what "sisters" Zoe did this for, but Simone Kelly sure as hell is not one of them.
- Aaron Overfield, Content Manager for NinaSimone.com
19 Comments to “Zoe (Kind Of, Somewhat, Not Really) Responds”
She was one of the most extraordinary artists of the twentieth century, an icon of American music. She was the consummate musical storyteller, a griot.
As she would come to learn, who used her remarkable talent to create a legacy of liberation, empowerment, passion, and love through a magnificent body of works. She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment. She was who the world would come to know as Nina Simone.
I remember the first time I heard a Nina Simone song on the radio. It was on a public radio station in the Bay area and the song was "Trouble in Mind." It was a beautiful Sunday and I was sitting in my white rocking chair on my porch.
“When I was an aspiring young artist searching for my voice, purpose, and direction, my early teachers took note of the fire burning in my belly, and they individually fanned the flame into passion, by introducing me to great Black women artists who presented their artistry with clarity and unrestrained courage.
One of those great women was the unmistakable, Ms. Nina Simone. I am eternally grateful to my teachers for this particular introduction."