Legendary songstress Nina Simone often sang about the heartache that comes with looking different, with having only a shallow pool of self esteem to draw from, and with living for years with a complex about one’s appearance. She often spoke about Hollywood’s desire to keep dark-skinned women under its thumb. That’s why the news of a certain fair-skinned actress being cast to play Simone in a film about her life has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
Zoe Saldana, who starred in “Avatar”, has been tapped for the role despite the fact that she looks nothing like the icon, and fans are so upset that a petition has been started to get director Cynthia Mort to consider another actress for the part. It’s not a slight on Saldana, they say; rather, they want Hollywood to start making more informed choices when casting roles. Because so much of Simone’s identity and music was tied up in the way she looked and the way she was perceived during her career, it makes sense to cast someone who has a similar aesthetic. For now, the plan is to give Saldana dark makeup and prosthetics to alter her appearance, but that in itself is offensive to many, according to Lanita Jacobs, anthropology professor at USC.
“We understand that there are these beauty issues,” she says, “and sometimes what sanctions people’s right to speak on these kind of issues is whether they have had experiences born of what it means to have kinky hair, or to have wide noses or darker skin. Nina’s music taps into a certain kind of awareness born of the way she looks.”
“Nina” is currently filming and is due out next year.