Hello Meltingpot Readers,
Colorism has caught my attention. In this country I believe colorism — a preference for, or belief about someone based on the color of their skin –is so pervasive and yet so underreported. It’s like our dirty little secret that keeps us up at night. And of course with all secrets, the shit starts to stink and you gotta let it all out. And that’s what happening now. All over the internet, on college campuses and in our secret spaces, we’re finally starting to talk about issues surrounding color. And make no mistake, this isn’t just a Black thing. Latinos, Asians and White people, yes regular, old, American White people are just as color struck as the rest of us. (sigh)
One of the latest controversies over color is the recent casting of Dominican actress Zoe Saldana to play Nina Simone in the film version of her life. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that Saldana doesn’t look anything like the great Miss Nina. But she’s an actress. And aren’t we all for color-blind casting? Someone pointed out recently that Denzel Washington was much darker than Malcolm X and nobody cried foul when he was cast to play the late, great Civil Rights icon. So, what gives with Saldana? For some people, it all comes down to color.
I don’t need to rehash what’s already been written by others. But here’s a snippet that sums up the main argument for those opposed to Saldana’s casting from clutch magazine:
“ Although Saldana is a talented actress, inhabiting such a complex and iconic role as Nina Simone takes more than just talent. The actress chosen should not only be able to pull off her mannerisms, wit, and her signature spunk, but she should also look like her.”
In my opinion, (and I know nobody asked for it) Saldana is just too pretty to play Simone. And while that sounds insulting to Ms. Nina and just kind of frustrating for Saldana, the fact of the matter is, Nina Simone’s art and music was influenced by her life experiences as a darker-hued, Black woman who not only had to deal with virulent racism, but also with a culture that didn’t acknowledge her beauty nor her femininity.
The other question I have is, can Saldana sing? Whoever plays Nina, should be able to sing, because there is nothing worse that watching a film where you know the actress is lip synching. That’s why Jamie Fox was such a joy to watch AND listen to in Ray. But as I type this, I remember another pretty actress who had to ‘ugly’ herself up to play the role of a lifetime. Remember Charlize Theron in Monster? Before Monster, Theron was thought of as just another pretty face. Then she played a lesbian serial killer with bad skin and suddenly she was legit in Hollywood.
Is Nina Simone Saldana’s Monster moment? Should the public give Saldana a chance instead of tearing her down because she’s not “Black enough” or too pretty?
What do you think, dear readers? I know I can think of a handful of other actresses who I would have selected to play Simone over Saldana, and that’s mostly based on their ability to sing and emote, not because of their skin color. Audra McDonald and Heather Headly immediately spring to mind. But at the end of the day, I wish Saldana well. I want her to succeed because I think she’s a good actress who has the potential to be great. What’s more, I think as an actress, Saldana deserves the chance to play characters that don’t look like her. Remember she did convince us that she was a big blue alien in that other movie.
Here is an article from Racialicious.com that takes the argument away from color issues and says this discussion should be about ownership of our own stories. Some good food for thought. And it makes me think. If there were far more movies being made featuring people of color, would folks be so upset by this one case of questionable casting?
What’s your take on all this? I’m listening. And I’m also listening to Nina, because after all this, I’m in the mood.