In the biopic chronicling the life of legendary singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, Dominican/Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldana was trashed by critics when she appeared in what some are considering “blackface” and a prosthetic nose.
When it was announced that Saldana was going to play Simone, many protested the decision, saying she was too light and cited her remarks from a 2013 interview in which she said, “There is no such thing as people of color.”
During Thursday’s edition of NewsOne Now, Roland Martin and his panel of guests discussed the backlash over Saldana’s portrayal of Simone and the subsequent discussion of colorism within the African-American community.
NewsOne Now panelist JeffriAnne Wilder, author of Color Stories: Black Women and Colorism in the 21st Century (Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture), sided with those who have taken issue with the casting of Saldana.
She told Martin, “I don’t think that necessarily Zoe Saldana is believable in her role as Nina Simone for a large number of reasons.” Wilder then cut to the heart of her disapproval of Saldana as Simone, saying, “There is something about the way that she looks and appears in the film … there’s something off about it.”
She added, “This was really a missed opportunity to highlight talent of darker-skinned actresses who also have musical talent, and I think we missed the mark here.”
“The backlash is reflective of colorism, because what does it say about our society when we really don’t value enough looking at dark skin — we have to cast someone who is a brown-skin or a lighter-skinned woman in this role when clearly it should have gone, in my opinion, to someone who is a more darker-complected actress,” said Wilder.
Martin then addressed the economic, as well as the possible marketing aspects that could have played a part in the casting of Saldana, saying, “When you are making a decision on how to finance films, a huge part of that is who is attached to it.”
Kierna Mayo, Editor-in-Chief of Ebony Magazine, agreed with Martin’s sentiment, saying, “Typically speaking, if you want to get a film to theaters, you need to have a very marquee-type name attached to it.”
Mayo also added the following caveat to that reality when she said, “That doesn’t change the reality of African-Americans, Black people in general, who are looking for authentic representation.”
“The sensitivity here is particular of Nina Simone, who herself so embodied racial pride, who herself so did not fit the Hollywood package … image that we all have grown so accustomed to that we can spit off the names Paula Patton and Zoe Saldana with ease, but we cannot find their darker-skinned peers.”
Watch the NewsOne Now discussion addressing colorism in the African-American community and the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in the video clip above.
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