Last night, the black interwebs let out a collective, “WTF” when several sources began reporting that Dominican beauty Zoe Saldana would be replacing Mary J. Blige in an upcoming Nina Simone biopic.

While many wondered why Saldana (or Mary J. if we’re honest) was tapped for the role considering she looks nothing like the legendary jazz singer, the fervor caused by her casting reminded me, once again, of the importance of telling our own stories.

In the past few years Hollywood has consistently gotten it wrong when it comes to telling black women’s narratives. From the questionable choice of casting Thandie Newton as an Igbo woman in the film adaptation of the novel Half of a Yellow Sun and Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela, to Jacqueline Fleming, a biracial woman, playing Harriet Tubman, when other people are in charge of portraying us, it seems like any brown face will do.

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.

As our Nigerian sisters reminded us when they started a petition to recast Newton’s role as an Igbo woman, sometimes an actress’ color does indeed matter. If producers are going to make a film about Nina Simone—or any other iconic black woman–they need to pick someone who resembles her, not only in charisma but also in skin tone.

What do you think of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone? 

93 Comments

  1. …and it’s unauthorized per Nina Simone’s daughter.

  2. FrankZappasGuitar

    Just put black face on her if she isn’t “black enough” for the audience. Or…maybe her skin tone isn’t the most crucial element of the film?

    • billie

      colourism is important when you are talking about THE NINA SIMONE. I’m mixed myself, and I wouldn’t even audition for that role. Because Nina’s features her skin and her hair were very important. She struggled in the industry because of it. Nina is an important figure in the civil rights era. But from what your saying why don’t we just cast Drake as Tupac or Javier Bardem as Pres. Cliton. Since looking distinctly like the figure your playing matter. India Arie or Lauryn Hill are talented musically and look like better/closer representations of her. Color when it comes to Nina matters, it’s what made people around the world stop and listen and look.

  3. ithopia

    I agree that they should not cast Zoe as Nina but Hollywood is only picking up what we give them. We told them that we only like light-skinned black women by supporting only light-skinned female artists look at the music industry you could count the dark skin women that are on top on one hand. We let Jayz come with Rihanna who we all know can’t sing a lick just because she is light skinned with green eyes and all us cosigned on that. As a dark skinned woman I long for the day when we love ourselves and uplight our kind, no matter how much talent you have the fact how you get a white producer to cast you when they think you own don’t value your beauty.

  4. Jessica

    I agree that a darker skinned actress should play the role because Nina struggled with skin color throughout her career. I think Zoe in her “blackface” is just as racist as a white actress in “blackface”. There are darker skinned women with the talent to play the role. I think less of Zoe for taking the role. I remember early in her career when asked about her ethnicity, Zoe would always list African last.

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