"Not Feelin' Good": #NinaSimone Biopic Trailer & Hollywood Colorism

Yesterday, the trailer for the long awaited "Nina" film released and social media went nuts and not in a good way either. Since the announcement of the film in 2012, there has been a lot of controversy over the decision to cast actress Zoe Saldana as the late and great songstress, composer, songwriter, and Civil Rights activist, Ms. Nina Simone. Once photos of Saldana portraying Simone were released, we saw the Halloween, face painted foolishness in living color.

Photo: blackfilm.com

A prosthetic nose was even added to Zoe's face to give her a more Nina Simone-eque look. 

The reason for the backlash is because Ms. Simone was a dark skinned Black woman and Saldana is a lighter skinned Black woman who does not resemble the singer in any way. While some people may state that an actor is not required to resemble the person they are portraying exactly (which is true), the problem in this scenario is that too often Black actors, especially dark skinned Black actresses are left out in casting. It's also no secret how dark skinned Black women are constantly torn apart, looked down upon, and denied opportunities. More so called "Eurocentric" features (slimmer nose, thinner bodies, long, straight hair) are valued on Black women in the entertainment field, and Nina Simone was the opposite of this with not only her dark skin, but also her nose size, kinky hair, and curvier body. In the documentary, "What Happened To Miss Nina Simone?", it was mentioned that Nina was put down for her dark skin, wide nose, and large lips, so I'm sure she is rolling in her grave at this casting. This goes against what she stood for. Nina was a proponent of celebrating Blackness, so this casting seems to be very disrespectful towards her and even other dark skinned Black women. 

Another example of biased casting was in the casting for the hot mess express "Aaliyah" biopic, Lifetime had chosen two lighter skinned, thinner actors to play as Timbaland and Missy Elliott. In the 1990's, both Timbaland and Missy Elliott were heavy set and brown skinned. Hollywood obviously has a problem with casting Black actors, darker skinned actors and overall actors whose features do not attribute to Eurocentric features, but this is nothing new. Colorism is alive in Hollywood

Photo: thestar.com

The problem in this scenario is there were plenty of actresses/singers who resemble Nina Simone would could have played the role. Such as:

India.Arie
Photo: bet.com

Viola Davis
Photo: people.com

Lauryn Hill
Photo: examiner.com

Uzo Aduba
Photo: motherjones.com

It seems like a bit much to have to paint make-up and add a prosthetic nose when there are actresses who can sang and resemble Nina available for the job. Hell, even giving an opportunity to an up and coming Black actress would have been cool, but let's come back to reality, this is Hollywood we're talking about. 

In the trailer, the fashion (y'all know I love vintage fashion and fashion in general) looks great and on point. Some of the ensembles Zoe rocked were exactly what Nina Simone would have worn. The cinematography looks great, but seeing Zoe Saldana spray painted with MAC NW45 made me cringe. You could definitely see how pasty the make-up was slathered on Saldana's face. It just looked really weird and just bad. 

Aside from Saldana's appearance and judging from the trailer, the acting looked okay. From interviews I've seen of her and the music I've listened to, the acting in the trailer didn't really give me Nina Simone. She had a very unique voice, both singing and speaking, and I didn't hear that from Saldana in the trailer. Nina Simone was one of those artists whose essence exuberated with soul, pain, and emotion. I get chills listening to some of her music, that's how powerful it is. I didn't feel that seeing some of the clips the way I felt when I saw Jamie Foxx portray the renowned, talented Ray Charles. I was also expecting to hear some of Simone's music in the trailer, especially one of her most iconic songs, "Feeling Good". But it is a trailer, so I digress.

Honestly, I'm still going to give Ms. Saldana and the movie a chance because it would be unfair to judge the whole film off a two-minute trailer. It might be watched via bootleg, but I'm going to give it a chance because I'm curious to see how the film will be. I think it's great and an honor to play a legend like Nina Simone, I'm down to see films about Black history and figures and to see Black actors being active in them, but we have to be honest about the colorism and privilege at hand. This discussion does not make Zoe any less Black than a Nina Simone because of her lighter skin, her phenotype, hair texture, or ethnic background. 

This does not mean that just because you're not darker skinned with a "Negroid nose", kinky hair, or have background of a different nationality/ethnicity, you're less Black or not Black at all. Being a Black person who has so called "Eurocentric" features should never give people the right to claim or stereotype that your gain of success is based off your appearance alone and totally ignore your work ethic and talent. Zoe Saldana is a Black woman (despite her comments on "people of color" not existing) and deserves to have the opportunity to portray a role as much as anyone else and she should not be ostracized for that, but we have to tell the truth about how certain features on Black people/women are more valued than others within the entertainment industry and even in everyday life. We have to tell the truth about the role colorism plays in industries like Hollyweird and how Black people/Black/dark skinned women are disregarded in the playing field of snagging roles. For the past few years, Zoe Saldana has seen how she looked in the Wesley Snipes #5 foundation and was obviously comfortable with her decision, even knowing about the backlash. To some extent, I'd even say she was taking this opportunity from a dark-skinned Black woman who resembles Nina Simone, and even experienced some of the challenges Nina endured with her dark skin. Honesty about this problem does not equate to being "divisive" or any other deflecting adjective. In the system of White supremacy, anything closer to White is celebrated more often and we need to be honest about that. 

Perhaps Zoe Saldana was chosen strictly based off her acting skills. Perhaps an actress who resembles Nina was not available to be apart of the film. While these ideas are considered, I personally still believe Zoe Saldana was chosen due to the system of colorism/racism in Hollywood practiced by directors, casting teams, and other industry heads. And while Zoe Saldana did choose the role knowing about the controversy and knowing the family does not approve of this film, we must continue to crack down on the real culprit. Seeing that the casting team behind the film does not include any Black people, I doubt they understand or care to understand the importance of showcasing a dark skinned Black woman as Nina for this movie. This just goes to show the continued lesson of why people of color need to tell our own stories with our own money and own teams. 



What are your thought on Saldana's portrayal as Nina Simone? Do you think another actress should have played Nina instead? Will you be seeing the film? 

More on colorism in Hollywood:






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