Some folks just can’t leave well enough alone or let comatose dogs stay comatose. Some folks must work really hard to remain so willfully ignorant. They must go out of their way to miss all the points in such a painfully obstinate manner. Worst of all, some folks must believe the lies so deeply that they’re just begging to be told point blank:
Zoe Saldana, you a f—ing lie.
If there ever were a case of completely, utterly, totally missing all the points, Zoe is the case. If someone Googles “missing the point” it should just take them straight to Zoe’s IMDB page.
Her word craft in Allure was such a display of masterfully, intentionally performed deflection that there’s almost nothing anyone can say to get through to her. Almost.
The way to (hopefully) get through to her is by not sitting idly by and letting her deflection slide. The way to (hopefully) get through to her is to call her out on her convoluted bullshit.
“There’s no one way to be black,” she says quietly and slowly, clearly choosing her words carefully. “I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I’m raising black men. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
Correct. There is no one way to be Black. It’s unfortunate that so many people attacked Zoe’s Blackness; however, there were just as many people pointing out that this isn’t about Zoe’s Blackness, it’s about Nina Simone’s Blackness. It’s always been about Nina’s Blackness. This is about Nina Simone.
Nina was unrelenting in her Blackness at a time when it was dangerous to be so. She was so radically Black that it was detrimental to her career and her marriage. Nina was MISSISSIPPI GODDAM Black; TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK Black; STRANGE FRUIT Black; FOUR WOMEN Black.
Nina wasn’t just Black though. Even in her own words she reveals a reality where she was a certain type of Black. A Blacker shade of Black:
So while Zoe is Black in the way she knows how to be, Nina was Black in the only way she was allowed to be. Trust Nina’s own testimony: It wasn’t a fun way. It wasn’t a kind way. It wasn’t an easy way.
It’s Nina’s Blackness that matters. Because this is about NINA SIMONE.
Nina’s Blackness matters. It mattered to her because it mattered to the world that oppressed her. It directly and adversely affected her life. She wrote about it; she spoke about it; she sang about it.
By not acknowledging Nina’s Blackness, everyone involved in Cynthia Mort’s film — not the vocal critics of the film — are the ones that tried to make this about Zoe’s Blackness. They tried to do so through every single choice they made that led to Zoe being cast to play Nina. Their ineptitude and insensitivity tried to make this about Zoe’s Blackness and then they deflected and blamed their faults on the critics.
Of course Zoe is free to define her own Blackness however she sees fit. She’s not free to make Nina’s Blackness about her, thereby marginalizing and minimizing Nina in the same way Nina was marginalized and minimized her entire life. And perhaps because — as she herself has stated in the past — Zoe chooses to be colorblind and to run away from discussions of race and ethnicity, Zoe is unable to distinguish the difference between some people claiming that she’s not “Black enough” from others of us that are saying: NINA’S BLACKNESS MATTERS.
There is such a world of difference between those two perspectives that it might make one wonder why someone incapable of differentiating the two would be involved in making a Nina Simone biopic.
Make it a mantra if you must: NINA’S BLACKNESS MATTERS.
So, yes, Zoe — there’s more than one way to be black; however that illuminates the fact that every day some little girls with no control over their Blackness are taught that there are ugly ways to be Black; that there are less desirable ways to be Black; that there are less valuable ways to be Black; and that they are that kind of Black girl: the Nina kind of black girl.
If someone isn’t already woke to this then it’s a damn shame; if someone isn’t already woke to this and they’re involved in a movie about Nina Simone, it’s an injustice.
(And, for the record it’s worth pointing out that Zoe is ready, willing, and able to champion for Asian visibility:
…but in a world plagued by colorism she’s unwilling to actively champion for women that look like Nina Simone. Now if that ain’t some shit…)
“I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family!” she says. “But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, then maybe you need to ask yourself, What do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider you get, the more insulted you become?”
Oh Sweet Mahatma Gandhi. I mean. Come on. You can’t really… Her thought train can’t really be traveling so ass backwards. Can it?
There’s two points here and they poignantly intersect.
If half of Zoe’s family looks like Nina, then how in the world could the fact be lost on Zoe that thanks to colorism (from which Zoe herself benefits) half of her own family couldn’t get cast to star in their own biopic – or in Nina’s.
Zoe, colorism exists. You know that, right? Of course you know that. It’s alive and well. There’s a hierarchy at play and the lighter your skin/more European your features, the closer to the top you live, while the darker your skin/more African your features, the closer to the bottom you live. Colorism exists. Today. Right now.
Although Zoe points out that half of her family looks like Nina, her actions show a willingness to neglect the fact that half of her family is subjected to the same reality of colorism as was Nina. The same reality of colorism reinforced by the film in which she chose to star.
That’s what makes the next part even more painful.
Zoe, the prosthetic nose you wore was unattractive but not because wide noses are unattractive. The prosthetic nose you wore was unattractive simply for the fact that Nina’s Blackness meant so little to everyone involved in the film that a prosthetic nose was even fucking necessary.
Nina was beautiful. She had beautiful skin. She had beautiful features. I’m sure people on that half of Zoe’s family are just as beautiful.
However, because of colorism, they aren’t taught they are as beautiful as Zoe. They aren’t shown examples of how they are as beautiful as Zoe. They aren’t told they are as beautiful as Zoe. They aren’t treated as if though they are as beautiful as Zoe. Colorism exists.
Wide noses aren’t ugly. The fact that a wide nose (and dark skin) shuts women out from equal opportunities is what’s ugly. The fact that in Hollywood roles are already being cast based on skin color is what’s ugly.
What’s ugliest is the fact that colorism in Hollywood meant Nina Simone’s Blackness got trivialized to the point where Nina’s graceful, natural beauty got mutated in this film — into some unnatural, hideous creature from the blackface lagoon.
You not only participated in that, Zoe — you were the literal face of it.
We’re just supposed to accept it? We’re not supposed to connect the dots? We’re supposed to pretend like colorism doesn’t exist; that Zoe didn’t get the role in part because her features make her more bankable; and that darkening Zoe up and plastering a wide nose on her doesn’t make a total mockery of Nina’s Blackness?
Wide noses aren’t unattractive. What’s unattractive is defiling the legacy of Nina Simone and then lashing out at people that have the audacity to call you on your privilege and hypocrisy.
Nina’s Blackness matters. So does the Blackness of that half of Zoe’s family. Nina’s skin and features are beautiful. So are the skin and features of that half of Zoe’s family.
“Nina” the movie is yet another sick embodiment of the dismissive attitude that their Blackness doesn’t matter and that their skin and features are unattractive. Considering what she stood for, the irony that the movie is supposed to about NINA fucking SIMONE is the sickest part of all.
(Oh and before folks start in on “crabs in a barrel,” “pitting Black people against each other” – that argument requires that we all blatantly ignore a present reality of colorism — that we pretend it doesn’t exist; that we accept the status quo; that we all go on our merry way and pretend like opportunities aren’t already being dished out on a skin-by-skin basis. Ignoring it doesn’t make it magically non-existent.
Colorism exists. Pretending like it doesn’t means affirming its very purpose: ensuring light skin is worth more than dark skin.)
“The script probably would still be lying around, going from office to office, agency to agency, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story,” she says. “I made a choice. Do I continue passing on the script and hope that the ‘right’ black person will do it, or do I say, ‘You know what? Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing in comparison to the fact that this story must be told.'”
Nobody should have done it. That story didn’t need to be told and never should have been told. That story was uninspired fiction.
That script should have ended up in the trash. It was so ill-conceived, amateur, misguided, and devoid of any passion that it’s astonishing Zoe felt it was worth fighting for.
Did she actually read it or did someone do an interpretive dance of the script for her while Zoe fiddled around on the internet and Googled “who was Nina Simone?”
Because THAT is the story Zoe felt had to be told so badly? THAT is the story that Zoe couldn’t just let go to die wherever terrible screenplays go to die? THAT is the story that Zoe felt encapsulated the spirit and legacy of Nina Simone?
THAT is how little she thinks of Nina Simone???
That’s a wee bit problematic.
“The fact that we’re talking about her, that Nina Simone is trending? We fucking won,” Saldana continues. “For so many years, nobody knew who the fuck she was. She is essential to our American history. As a woman first, and only then as everything else.”
Woman, you a lie. You’re reaching for that mental silver lining so hard that your brain bout to bleed out your ears.
In some misguided, abstract “all attention is good attention” way, maybe y’all get an award for attendance, but that’s a very unlikely maybe and besides the award would be a torn-in-half gold star sticker and the sticky side would be covered in lint. So, no…you didn’t win shit.
The truth is that you and Cynthia Mort and everyone else connected to that piece of crap film have attempted to do more harm to Nina’s legacy than if she had simply been unknown.
But, Nina wasn’t unknown. I’ve been involved with Nina’s legacy in some way for nearly fifteen years and this is what I learned (and what makes me suspect Zoe and company didn’t know enough about Nina prior to this film):
Nina is everywhere. Holy shit she’s literally everywhere.
Once you’re aware of Nina, you start seeing her everywhere. She’s mentioned here, she’s an influence there, she’s sampled over here, she’s referenced over there. You start seeing her in places you’ve been a hundred times but somehow she remained hidden. Then you begin to comprehend the huge movement of people that are not only aware of Nina but are passionate about her receiving ample recognition.
The issue has never really been about not enough people knowing of Nina, it’s always been about connecting all the disparate parts of Nina’s legacy to form a representative, cohesive narrative – so that people not only know of Nina, but also they know who Nina was, what Nina stood for, what impassioned her, and what messages she was desperate to deliver to her people.
The issue is not about people knowing of Nina, it’s about people having access to Nina. Legitimate Nina. Authentic Nina. Real Nina.
In terms of that effort, the film in which Zoe chose to take part threatened (and tried) to do more damage to Nina’s legacy than anything I’ve witnessed since two decades ago — when I accepted Nina as my High Priestess and Savior.
Zoe, you are a fucking lie. You didn’t win shit. We are undoing the damage you have done. We are working overtime to get the narrative out there for those people who had never heard of Nina or that didn’t yet know who Nina really was: a beautiful, strong, proud, genius Black “reincarnation of an Egyptian Queen” (as Nina often reminded us).
The film in which you participated is not #1 in a series of films. First of all, that film doesn’t fucking count. Second, no more films need to be made. Between “Nina Simone: La légende” (by Frank Lords, 1992), “Nina: An Historical Perspective” (by Peter Rodis, 1970), “The Amazing Nina Simone” (by Jeff Lieberman, 2015), and the final capstone to Nina’s legacy: “What Happened, Nina Simone?” (by Liz Garbus, 2015), Nina’s story has been told.
You attached yourself and your name to something that requires this much vigilant criticism — because the second we shut up about it is the second that we risk your film’s colorism, ugliness, and lies becoming an unsuspecting and uninformed viewer’s truth about Nina Simone.
You didn’t get Nina Simone trending. You got your own ignorance, arrogance, and obliviousness trending.
Yay for #TeamZoe, I guess.