When it was announced that Zoe Saldana would star in the Nina Simone biopic critics were quick to point out the problems with the casting choice. The ALMA Award winner had to wear dark brown makeup, a wig, and a prosthetic nose – something critics saw as blackface.
With a white team producing the film, critics didn’t think they would capture the true essence of the “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” singer. The most poignant thing written about the casting choice was published in The Atlantic.
“There is something deeply shameful in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates.
So what does Saldana, who has Dominican, Puerto Rican, Hattian and Lebanese roots, think of the controversy?
“There’s no one way to be black,” she told Allure magazine. “I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
“Nina looks like half my family!” she continued. “But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, what do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?”
She continued her defence by saying if she didn’t take the role, no one would.
“The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story.”
“I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.’”
This seems like a sloppy defence of a decision that was made based on colourism. The ends do not justify the means, especially when there are a ton of black actresses in Hollywood who would be the perfect fit. Zaldana seems to be taking this as a personal attack, as opposed to looking at the wider social implications of her casting.
Image credit: Allure, IMDb