Zoe Saldana Looks Better in Blueface Than Blackface. What Happened, Miss Simone? (Video)
Less than a week after the 88th Academy Awards took place during a maelstrom of controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in Hollywood, the official trailer for an upcoming biopic about iconic singer Nina Simone was released, and the controversy continues. Starring Zoe Saldana in the lead role, Nina tells the story of one of the most influential African American women in music whose voice reflected the anguish, pain, and struggle of being a dark-skinned woman in mid-20th century America. It is precisely that history of struggling which has many fans outraged at the film’s casting of Ms. Saldana, who is herself a Dominican-Puerto Rican with Haitian and Lebanese roots with a much lighter skin tone than the woman she is portraying. Saldana first accepted the role back in 2012 but because the official trailer has just been released, the heated debate about the use of a prosthetic nose and what is essentially blackface makeup has once again erupted, only adding fuel to the fire started by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and the far-too-longstanding issue of whitewashing in the film and television industries. As such, it has become a topic of conversation on social media, the blogosphere, and late-night television, with Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show taking on the issue with great force on last night’s episode.
In the panel discussion segment of yesterday’s show, host Larry Wilmore is joined by two of the show’s contributors, Franchesca Ramsey and Robin Thede, both of whom are African American women. The special guest was Michael K. Williams, a celebrated actor whose work as Omar Little on The Wire has made him an icon. Together, the four address the many issues evolving out of the ongoing discussion about Saldana’s casting, a conversation Williams leads into by saying “as a person of color in Hollywood, I respect Zoe’s craft a lot, she’s a beast. For women in color in Hollywood, there’s not a lot of roles that women of her caliber, as we say in the industry, ‘can sink our teeth into.’ But, do I think that maybe someone in her camp should have advised her maybe to pass on this role? I agree.” He goes on to say that much of the decision’s failure was not at all the fault of Saldana, arguing that Hollywood didn’t look hard enough for someone to play Simone, because there are more than enough women of darker complexions who could portray her on screen. Thede echoes the sentiment, saying that casting Saldana back in 2012 made a lot of sense, because the actress’ career had really taken off. “At the time, she had just finished doing Star Trek and Avatar…and that’s the thing. She looked better in blueface than in blackface.”
Wilmore asks his panel whether the complexities of the issue are related only to the offensive makeup, or if there is more to the story, particularly as it relates to the lack of opportunities for people of color. Williams takes a few moments to share his personal reasoning for disagreeing with Saldana’s casting, saying that Nina Simone reminded him of his “full-figured, dark-skinned Black woman,” and that “Zoe does not remind me of my mom,” a moment of humorous levity which carries some profound weight to it. For him, the Black makeup and prosthetic nose are particularly problematic, because to him they seem to suggest that the creators of the film did not think they could find a darker woman with the skill to play the role. Ramsey continues that thread, stipulating her point of view that one need not necessarily look like the person being portrayed, but much of Simone’s story is inextricably linked to her Blackness. “Nina Simone’s music and her career was about her difficulties as a dark-skinned Black woman and the erasure of Black women. So now you’re going to erase her in her biopic?,” she asks incredulously.
Is there room for Saldana’s playing Simone because she’s a woman of color portraying another woman of color? Who would you cast in your Nina Simone biopic? Here is the trailer.