The issue of Zoe Saldana playing the role of singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone in the upcoming biopic about her life began years ago, and now, as a trailer and the first official images of Zoe in character surface, it’s time to revisit the topic.
As a young Afro-Latina from Spanish Harlem whose skin color doesn’t veer too far from Zoe’s, I admit I’d worship the chance to play Nina – but the truth is, it wouldn’t be my place, especially if it involves blackface.
Here’s what makes me so sure.
I grew up with most of my peers constantly telling me I wasn’t Black, though I am. It didn’t take me long to realize what they meant was I wasn’t Black like them.
Though I faced racism, I never – not once in my life – got teased for being darker of skin. I wasn’t made to feel like my nose was too big or my hair, too kinky. Though there were a few times I felt out-of-place, a few times I was treated as the “token Black girl,” and even one time when a White friend called me her “favorite nigger,” I was never picked apart the way some of my friends with darker skin were. I didn’t have to go through hearing the specifics of what White people thought was wrong with me – I was simply not White, and that was enough for racists.
This is somewhat of a luxury afforded to many women and men of color with lighter skin. The fact is, we’re treated better in a lot of cases, we’re seen as less threatening… we’re the Black people who White people can deal with.
As I grew up, I started to get why my peers kept saying I wasn’t Black. They meant I’d be viewed as a Hispanic – and that meant that though I’d have my own issues with race and double consciousness in America, most likely, I just. would. not. have the same struggle they did.
Because the division of our people was based on many attributes, including our degree of Blackness, it makes more sense that someone who knows and feels the intricacies of Nina’s struggle play her.
There’s that – and the fact that Zoe’s blackface makeup job is weak. If we look at some of the great biopics, (Will Smith as Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Lopez as Selena, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, and Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg), appearance was a key factor in keeping things authentic.
We’re still fighting to all be seen as equal and we’re still fighting for all people of color to have the same opportunities. I have to say, Zoe, who is one of my favorite actresses, is on the wrong side of this fight.
Check out the trailer just above, the poster here, and if you’re interested, Nina will be released in theaters and on VOD on April 22nd.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty