The critics continue to cast aspersions on the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in a motion picture about the singer’s life. And they are not the only ones.
Since the choice of the Domincan/Puerto Rican born actress in the role, Hollywood industry insiders, bloggers, Nina’s own daughter, Simone Kelly have all protested against the decision and an online petition has been circulating on Change.org stating that, “getting light complexioned actors to play the roles of dark complexioned historical figures is not only a sign of blatant disrespect to the persons they are portraying, but it is also disrespectful to their families, to history, to the people who look like the persons being whitewashed, and to the intelligence of the audience.
There is nothing new about this argument. In the early nineties during the making of Malcolm X, concerns were expressed on the choice of Denzel Washington in that role. Many critics noted that Washington was far shorter and had a much darker complexion than Malcolm X who stood 6’4″ tall and had reddish hair and a light complexion. When the movie was November of 1992 it was critically well-received and Denzel’s portrayal received a great deal of praise along with a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. The characteristics of the controversy surrounding the casting of the role are a distant memory.
Now Saldana’s casting as Simone is very different. Looking back, Malcolm X’s physical appearance was not key to the nature of his story in the way that Nina’s is. In fact it is so important in the story of Nina Simone’s struggles that dark makeup and a prosthetic nose are being used by Zoe during the making of the film. These necessary measures exacerbate the significance of the look of the character.
The making of this biopic has a long history of dramas and financial setbacks that predate this current controversy. Mary J. Blige was slated to play the character when the project went into development in 2010. When Mary J was forced to drop out [due to the aforementioned financial setbacks] bloggers speculated widely who could take on the role. Viola Davis, Lauren Hill, India Arie, Tichina Arnold and Adepero Oduye [from the movie Pariah] were all on that list.
Many look at the life of Nina Simone… at her immense talent, resilient nature and grand achievements as well as her struggles with insecurity and persecution… and question Zoe Saldana ability to grasp the depth of the role because of her background. This particular concern may be groundless because Saldana’s qualities as an actress are not in question. It can be said that she her body of work has proven that she is talented enough to bring passion and substance to the roles she plays.
However, the choices made for the role, in light of the importance of physical appearance the Nina Simone story, is questionable to say the least.
Do you think Zoe Saldana will be able to pull it off?
Will you go see the film when it is released?
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