Last week the poster and trailer for the Nina Simone biopic were released, stirring a huge controversy for Zoe Saldana. Saldana, who is set to portray Simone, wasn’t ostracized for her acting abilities, but for donning blackface and for portraying a role that doesn’t seem to be the smartest fit.
I’m not one to belittle an actress. In fact, Saldana is an incredible performer, who in my opinion, is rather underrated. But, I can’t support a lighter-skinned actress of mixed Latino and African heritage, portraying a dark skinned African American woman. Simone’s racial identity was a crucial part of her life, so to have an actress with zero resemblance is rude, distasteful and insulting. Let’s call a spade a spade.
Ever since the 19th century, performers used theatrical makeup (a.k.a Blackface) to represent a Black person. Minstrel show actors donned dark grease on their faces to shuck and jive portray animated circus clowns. I’m not saying Saldana looks like a clown, but when the makeup isn’t properly blended, looks blotchy and isn’t properly color matched, it lends itself to comedic relief, no?
This controversy comes at a time when even the fashion industry uses dark makeup to appropriate blackface. Remember when model Ondria Hardin appeared in Numéro magazine as an “African Queen,” or how about Illamasqua Australia’s Christmas advertisement with a model in a backface that looked exactly like a minstrel show performer? When is enough, enough?
It seems to me that the reasonable thought process would be to cast a darker skinned actress to show aspiring dark skin actresses that they too can have a role in Hollywood without packing on tons of unnecessary makeup and compromising their natural features.
India Arie said it best in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter: “In the context of the politics of race in America, and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf.”
I couldn’t agree more.
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