Ever since it was announced that “Avatar” star Zoe Saldana (pictured right) had been tapped to play jazz/blues/folk singer and activist Nina Simone (pictured), there has been sizable backlash from the Simone family and around the blogosphere, because Saldana is deemed too light for the role, according to the New York Times.
Last month, the Hollywood Reporter announced that Dominican-Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldana was chosen to play Simone in a biopic about her life by writer and director Cynthia Mort and executive producer Jimmy Iovine. While the lead role in the jazz icon’s life is a sure win for Saldana, family members and bloggers believe it is a loss for Simone and her legacy.
On Simone’s official Facebook page, Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, complained to followers about the decisions movie makers have been making on behalf of her mother, writing:
How many of you know my mother’s FIRST love was classical music? Do you know the hours she practiced preparing to audition for the Curtis Institute of Music only to be rejected because of the color of her skin?
As a child, my mother was told her nose was too big and she was too dark yet she graduated valedictorian of her high school class – The Allen School for Girls – AND, skipped two grades.
Kelly later told the NY Times, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise this [Saldana being cast] is not the best choice.”
And Kelly is not alone.
Tiffani Jones of blog Coffee Rhetoric wrote in an article entitled “(Mis)Casting Call: The Erasure of Nina Simone’s Image“:
[After Mary J. Blige didn't pan out as the lead], folks were left to ponder who’d play Nina; bloggers and fans campaigned for the Black actresses and entertainers they thought would be more of an appropriate fit for the role – including Viola Davis, Lauryn Hill, India Arie and especially Adepero Oduye who starred, to wide acclaim, in “Pariah” – so many were left with feelings of confusion and dismay when Afro-Latina actress, Zoe Saldana was announced as Mary J. Blige’s replacement.
And it’s a very valid gripe. Black actresses – particularly those with darker skin- often lament their experiences having to navigate the politics of an industry, that’s rarely willing to cast them in non-stereotypical roles, because [despite being attractive and immensely talented and right for the role] they don’t have the palatable “mainstream look” the Hollywood machine requires of some of its Black actresses; so they often lose plum roles to, what I call, the Halle Berry/Paula Patton appeal… and that destructive notion often places Black identified but racially ambiguous looking actresses on a pedestal as ideal representations of the Black female aesthetic.
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