Thursday, September 13th, 2012

If You Wanna Play Nina Simone In A Movie About Her Life, It Does Sorta Matter If You're Black Or White

"A large part of Nina Simone’s work and advocacy was prompted by the challenges she faced for having dark-skin and being rejected or criticized because of it. Nina was unapologetic about her brand of beauty and it was reflected in her demeanor and personal aesthetic."
Tiffani Jones, of Coffee Rhetoric, assails the choice of light-skinned, thin-nosed Zoe Saldana to play Nina Simone in Cynthia Mort's biopic Nina. (Too bad Mary J. Blige dropped out. That could have been great. Or terrible.) Jones is right, I think. Mort told the Times' Tanzina Vega that the movie she's making is not intended to be a strict biography, but rather "a love story about an artist's journey into herself." I would say that's cool, and go ahead and make that movie, and take and credit inspiration from Nina Simone as you're doing so. But maybe change the name of your protagonist? That's a real problem with the whole notion of "biopic," particularly if you then get to make such a thing as an apolitical movie about Nina Simone. And it all goes back to Oliver Stone's JFK. Which was such a disaster and really a bad thing for the world.

6 Comments / Post A Comment

Every artist is free to express themselves however I think someone like Viola Davis would be a better choice. But hey, white guys have been playing Jesus since movies were invented.

LondonLee (#922)

Don't tell me, there will be a secondary, modern-day plot concerning someone writing a blog about Nina Simone and the problems it causes with her handsome boyfriend.

deepomega (#1,720)

How can you say that about JFK – it's a key text! It's about making up myths to replace myths! Tearing down idols and building new ones in their place!

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

The Rose worked pretty well as a barely-concealed biopic, in the manner you suggest.

Markham (#237,905)

I think this issue is actually a lot more complicated.

1) Mary J & Zoe are of similar complexions so the light skinned thing doesn't make sense. However, the difference is that Mary J has more pronounced Black or African features, and isn't considered as beautiful as Zoe. In fact being insecure about her looks is part of her music.

Mary J is famous for her talent as a singer, she isn't a sex symbol within the urban or Black audience or Mainstream one. Zoe is. That's the real issue I think. A darker skinned actress like say Gabrielle Union would face similar criticism I think.

There is an artistic synergy there with Mary J.

2) Zoe isn't considered "Black" by many of my fellow African-Americans because she's A) Latina B) tends to be in "white movies". Zoe isn't going to be in a Tyler Perry movie to pay the bills anytime soon, she can be in mainstream movies, play a white guy's girlfriend, etc.

Thing is, she's a Black Woman. I hate it when people say otherwise because there are Afro-Latinos in my FAMILY, are we not Black anymore?

This really goes to how African-American audiences will perceive someone as "light skinned" based on how the mainstream audience perceives them.

E.g. My sister is lighter complexioned than Zoe and no one has ever called her light skinned, I'm a similar complexion so you know I wasn't.

If Zoe had had more African features and/or was in Tyler Perry flicks instead of Mainstream roles, we wouldn't be having this conversation to the same level.

Still when not being considered attractive by mainstream audiences let alone Black ones is part of your story, you don't cast Zoe. It's no different than casting Beyonce as Etta James.

Mary J was perfect, going to Zoe makes no sense. As someone else mentioned Viola Davis is a much, much, much, better choice.

If it were a British movie they'd just black her up.

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