Perspectives: Zoe Saldana Looks Nothing Like Nina Simone, but That Doesn't Matter in Hollywood

Zoe Saldana, Nina SimoneA couple of weeks prior to the Oscars, Jada Pinkett Smith announced that it was time for a change due to the lack of diversity in the nominations. Shortly after that, Stacey Dash got on television and basically said that black people don’t need their own award shows. And now, the trailer for Nina -- the Nina Simone biopic -- was released, starring a fair-skinned Zoe Saldana. Unfortunately, with everything that has occurred surrounding the politics of Black Hollywood, the reignited controversy regarding Zoe’s role as Nina Simone has only added fuel to the (already burning) fire.


The choice of casting sheds further light on the ongoing issue -- not only the lack of diverse roles for black actors and actresses, but the likelihood of their receiving the roles as well. Yes, while Saldana is Afro-Latina, Nina Simone was not! If ever you’re going to do a biopic, the casting should probably be an accurate portrayal of whoever it’s about. There are so many African-American actresses who would’ve been just as great (if not better) and would’ve been just as great without needing the offensive use of blackface to make her look like Simone.

Personally, the first who came to mind was Viola Davis, but in addition to Viola, The Root went on to name Lupita Nyong'o, Tika Sumpter, and more. However, perhaps because their flesh is a bit darker, they were overlooked -- further stressing that colorism is very much a real thing, historically traced back to choosing lighter slaves as "House n*ggers" (a considerably good job) over the darker ones who worked outdoors.

Ultimately, I feel that if Saldana wants to embrace the side of her that allows her to identify as "Afro"-Latina, she ought to stand by causes important to us, as well. Instead, Saldana chose to (whether it was ignorantly or carelessly) take on a role, negatively portraying an important figure in black history whom she doesn’t even begin to naturally resemble.

Blackface on a brown face doesn’t make the practice any less offensive than when white people first began using it to degrade and mock our appearance and character. The only difference now is that after centuries of perpetuating stereotypes of what black people are like through their characters, they’ve fooled people into believing that the darker our skin, the less capable of giving a remarkable performance we are. (Even if the character being portrayed resembles us.)

This incident is, sadly, the reason it's important that we have our own award shows and production companies and an overall sense of entrepreneurship (please, duly note this, Stacey Dash) -- if we don't create these opportunities for ourselves then we'll miss out due to colorism or straight racism most EVERY. Single. Time.  


Kiarra SylvesterKiarra Sylvester is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared on Huffington Post, Yahoo, and YourTango. All opinions here are her own.






Images via Faye Sadou / UPA /Retna Ltd./Corbis; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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