I’ll be crass: I do not support Zoe Saldana portraying Nina Simone.
Saldana is a gifted actress, no doubt. But visually, she does not fit the role of the celebrated icon.
Previously I posted my discontent on how caught up we, as a society, get about people of color playing fictional characters. For one, a fictional character is just that; a creation that welcomes interpretation. If the fictional character’s race, ethnicity, or other demographic markers isn’t integral to the plot, then we shouldn’t get caught up on what the character looks like.
But Nina Simone is not a work of fiction. She is an indelible entertainer and activist that used creative outlets to espouse her socio-political ideologies. Nina Simone was a vocal cultural critic that disavowed racism, prejudice, and sexism. Her existence is undeniable.
Zoe Saldana does not mirror Nina visually. This is particularly troubling considering Nina’s views about appearance and Black female representation. A dark skinned woman who rocked her natural hair with no hesitation or insecurity, Nina potently amplified the “Black Is Beautiful” mantra. Nina Simone’s courage in embracing her Black womanhood was particularly inspirational given the time and manner in which she did so. When cultural norms and social mores were designed and perpetuated by white supremacy, Nina Simone valiantly stood to dismantle skewed visions of beauty.
Casting Zoe Saldana puts Nina Simone’s entire legacy at risk.
Saldana certainly has the acting chops, but talent isn’t enough for such a role. To portray Nina is to embody her; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Saldana lacks the latter. She is significantly lighter than Nina, and her hair is of a finer texture. It may sound immature to nit-pick such details, but within the Black community, these slight differences completely alter how we’re viewed.
I’m not color or texture shaming. Absolutely not. But a significant part of Nina’s activism was her looks; her looks are forever tied to her emotional upbringing, spiritual development, and overall expressive character. Her physicality is necessary for any depiction of her.
Through it all, I support Saldana’s acting career; as a woman of color, I know how difficult it is for her to get coveted acting roles. But, she has no room for error in this biopic. She must play the part convincingly in order to have us forget that she is physically unqualified for the role.