Zoe Saldana is set to play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. African-American bloggers flew into a rage at the announcement that she landed the part. If you aren’t familiar with Nina Simone, she is a LEGENDARY jazz singer who shares NO resemblance to the Dominican beauty set to play her.
In order to transform Saldana into Simone, her skin had to be darkened with make up and she has to wear a prosthetic nose. Instead of choosing a dark-skinned woman, or a woman with a wide nose, the film producers decided to turn Saldana into what they needed.
All of this begs the question: why not cast an actress that looks like Nina Simone? Was a dark-skinned black woman avoided because producers felt like a lighter skinned actress would bring more people to the theater? Now don’t get me wrong. Zoe Saldana is a good actress. But I don’t think that she is just so phenomenal that anything needs to be done to make her a part of the film.
I am sure if producers searched, they could have found a woman who looks like Nina Simone and could portray her on the big screen. Also, keep in mind that Zoe has said on occasion that she is not black, she’s Latina.
Just a couple of weeks ago a similar story was on my morning blog feed. A white model was painted darker and posed as an African Queen in a photo spread. Numero magazine hired white model Ondria Hardin for the shoot. Huffington Post reported:
To start, we know there are plenty of white people living in Africa — but Ondria is from North Carolina and we’re pretty sure white people in Africa don’t walk around in what could be considered a light application of black face.
With that said, the editorial serves as another sad example of how the fashion industry continually ignores or exploits ethnic diversity rather than celebrating it. And to think how easy it would have been for Numéro to select one of the countless beautiful black models and avoid this justifiable backlash and contribution to an unrelenting problem.
The photographer of the shoot, Sebastian Kim, issued a statement:
I would like to apologize for any misunderstanding around my recent photos for Numero France. It was never my intention (nor Numero’s) to portray a black woman in this story. Our idea and concept for this fashion shoot was based on 60′s characters of Talitha Getty, Verushka and Marissa Berenson with middle eastern and Moroccan fashion inspiration. We at no point attempted to portray an African women by painting her skin black. We wanted a tanned and golden skin to be showcased as part of the beauty aesthetic of this shoot.
It saddens me that people would interpret this as a mockery of race. I believe that the very unfortunate title “African Queen” (which I was not aware of prior to publication) did a lot to further people’s misconceptions about these images. It was certainly never my intention to mock or offend anyone and I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone who was offended.
I mean come on! Were there NO black models available to do this photo shoot? This is the ultimate slap in the face. It just reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t that long ago and we can’t get too comfortable. If a black woman couldn’t get the job to play the AFRICAN QUEEN, what job can she expect to get? Oh, I forgot. There’s always music videos.
Below is a video of Zoe Saldana’s reaction to the criticism: