Zoe Saldana believes she was meant to play Nina Simone. As a result, she’s had to endure major public scrutiny for accepting the lead role in the controversial Nina biopic. Most have expressed that her casting was not only wrong, but highly offensive since there isn’t even a smidgen of resemblance between her and the beloved dark skinned singer slash activist. Yet Zoe Saldana still believes it was okay for her to play the part.
She defended herself on matter in a recent interview with Allure:
“There’s no one way to be black…”I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain…I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family…But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?”
“The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story…I made a choice…Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told…The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We fucking won..For so many years, nobody knew who the fuck she was.”
It’s clear that she’s allowed her ego to to take full control. Instead of seeing this as a form of discrimination against dark skinned black women, she’s made the choice to believe people see her as too attractive to play Nina Simone. Thankfully, Nina Simone’s estate isn’t letting Saldana off the hook. In response to the Allure article, Nina Simone’s Estate manager, Aaron Overfield said this:
Of course Zoe is free to define her own Blackness however she sees fit. She’s not free to make Nina’s Blackness about her, thereby marginalizing and minimizing Nina in the same way Nina was marginalized and minimized her entire life. And perhaps because — as she herself has stated in the past — Zoe chooses to be colorblind and to run away from discussions of race and ethnicity, Zoe is unable to distinguish the difference between some people claiming that she’s not “Black enough” from others of us that are saying: NINA’S BLACKNESS MATTERS. There is such a world of difference between those two perspectives that it might make one wonder why someone incapable of differentiating the two would be involved in making a Nina Simone biopic.
In other words, the real issue at hand, which continues to plague the black community, is Colorism. She was granted the role of Nina Simone because of the privileges she’s been afforded in Hollywood for having lighter skin and “softer” features, yet she refuses to acknowledge those privileges in this case. To be clear, Saldana and all other light skinned black actresses have the right to live their dreams and excel. So do women with darker complexions, but there is a lack of balance in that area. That’s the problem. We know it, and we hoped to God that she could wrap her mind around it after being on the receiving end of the Nina biopic backlash. Apparently not.
Her statements to Allure bring to mind an article I wrote recently about colorism in the new feminist and activist space. We received countless comments from people who agreed and disagreed. The consensus among those who disagreed was that we should stop “separating ourselves” and stop the “light skinned dark skinned debate.” How can you stop discussing something so destructive and real within a community, especially when it wasn’t created by us? What’s interesting is that when things like “Zoe-Saldana-Gets-To-Play-Nina-Simone-Though-She-Looks-Nothing-Like-Her” happen, we have no choice but to acknowledge that colorism isn’t a mere figment of the imaginations of “angry” dark skinned women. It’s a issue inline with racism. At the end of my article I wrote:
…should light skinned black women begin to acknowledge their own privileges and how it’s afforded them the ability to become the poster girls of the modern-day black feminist movement? Wouldn’t that be an important piece in discussing the dehumanization of black women?
This issue lends a great example of how black women who enjoy certain privileges can use their platforms to speak out against colorism if they truly care about equality and ending discrimination. Though Ms. Saldana has never claimed the role of activist, she could have freed herself of the scrutiny while showing empathy to countless women who experience colorism regularly–especially in her line of work. It’s the same understanding she feels she’s owed when her blackness is questioned as a black Latina. If she was able to strike a balance between the two issues and articulate it in a way that was freeing for her and for women who actually look like Nina Simone and are too often passed up because of the degree of their blackness, it could have been a revolutionary moment for her.
Maybe Ms. Saldana should ask herself if it would be appropriate for, let’s say, Adepero Oduye to play Lena Horne in a film. Or how about Lupita Nyong’o landing the role of Angela Davis. First of all, it wouldn’t even be a thought, and if it were, the results would be laughable. Zoe Saldana has managed to defend the same sort of preposterous casting, but on the flip side. Why should Nina Simone be depicted in what translates more as a costume and blackface rather than a natural portrayal of such an important woman in black history? Zoe Saldana knowingly participated in a project that seeks to diminish Simone’s story, but her bigger offense is not seeing her privilege for what it is.