By Tracy L. Scott
So, if you’ve been hanging out with the Internets lately, you’ve heard that Zoe Saldana has recently been cast to play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic about the legendary singer’s life. Most of the internet thinks this is a dumb, bad, stupid, dumb bad idea. I agree, and you probably should too. But not for the reasons you may be thinking.
Okay. The problem here, in my opinion, is not Zoe’s ability to play Nina Simone. Some people think she just doesn’t have it in her. Nina was gritty, in-your-face, bold, daring, subversive. I don’t think she could have been demure and gentle if she tried. Zoe could, though, and to some people this softness cancels any ability to give us hard, rough, bitter. I’m vetoing this. I saw Colombiana—okay, I saw the previews for Colombiana—and she appears to kick some major butt in that flick. Literally and otherwise.
The problem also isn’t that she’s not “black,” and reading this criticism actually makes me mad. Zoe has spoken very openly about her ethnicity, and identifies as a black woman. Who are we to strip that from her? How dare we not let her name herself? Get that out of here, sirs and madams. That’s vetoed as well.
And the problem definitely and absolutely is not that Zoe is “too pretty” to play Nina. Talk about insulting and telling of the extent to which our Western standard of beauty has poisoned our little brains. Both Zoe and Nina are beautiful. It’s just the one would be considered more so by a conglomerate of social institutions. Where’s my pen? I need to sign this veto real quick. The problem with this casting job is rooted in a very harmful, silencing tradition: the Hollywood whitewashing of people of color and their stories to make them palatable to the general audience (read: white folks).