You A F—ing Lie

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.

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“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:

“I’m the kind of colored girl who looks like everything white people despise or have been taught to despise.”

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.

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Nina’s skin matters. Her hair matters. Her nose matters.

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:

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…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…)

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

46 thoughts on “You A F—ing Lie”

  1. Wow, Aaron, thank you for articulating this with such passion. I met someone who worked on the soundtrack and they tried fervently to convince me that this movie was worth a try. I was working and did not feel it was the time nor place to explain how the choice of actress was not as solid as the choice of music selected. So often people ARE selected based on bankable reasons versus obvious ones. I hope Zoe and all involved could walk a mile to understand the side they obviously did not in making this. Aaron, again, thank you.

    1. I was thinkig the same thing. But still, he has a very valid point in what he is saying. What I did not understand though was this part, coming from a white person who also happens to be a man, it sounds nothing short of a mockery itself:
      “Woman, you a lie. You’re reaching for that mental silver lining so hard that your brain bout to bleed out your ears”. Strange choice of words.

  2. Thank you. You said this better than I ever could. Now, if someone could make a proper Nina Simone biopic starring Uzo Aduba. She can sing, she’s a fantastic actress and is beautiful without needing the make-up and prosthetics.

  3. Oh well done! Miss Saldana is ignorant, I have worshipped Nina Simone for over 50 years and her music and message has seeped into my being as it has done for millions across this planet- self promotion Miss Zaldana, using another’s name and talent,. is really the lowest form of artistic integrity.

  4. I’m a little perturbed being lectures about why I should be lectured on colorism by some random white dude, attempting to circulate hatred and division between different shades of black? Bad form, man. Does this mean when you get a tan you fall a few rungs on the social ladder?

  5. Thank you for writing this article. Zoe Saldana is a good actress but she is not fit to play this role. Her skinny frame doesn’t seem like it could even pretend to produce a sound as beautiful, strong, and powerful as Nina’s voice.

    I was hoping Uzo Aduba would play Nina Simone. She’s a television actress but she’s talented and won 2 Emmys and 2 SAGs.

  6. How beautiful is the truth? Well put, Mr. Overfield. I don’t think some people should ever be portrayed by mere actresses. People like Nina can and should speak for herself. The world owes her that.

  7. Have not seen this. Will see it to compare to my experiences of the Nina performances I was blessed to see, and to the messages in her work. She was beautiful; her music was beautiful and the message the sad reality for too many Americans. Rod

  8. I agree that there needs to be accuracy in the bio pic of Nina Simone and I have known and adored the singer for the past 25 yrs (I’m 50). I’m a white woman so her music transcends race and generations; it’s just that good. Looking at it from a diverse side being culturally aware, Ms Saldana may be (what they call in the community) as “high yellow” or “red bone” but that does not mean she had it easy. What it means is she wasn’t accepted in the black community bc she wasn’t black enough and not in the white either. When you’re young and come from mixed racial parents, its unfortunate that neither will fully embrace, leaving the child to feeling (somewhat) unwanted and abandoned by a whole group who that child may be looking to for inclusion. To assume that Ms Saldana had it entirely easily bc of her light skin and did not ever see it rough is the same as assuming Ms Simone always had it rough. Both are simply not true. Ms Saldana clearly had it rough and Ms Simone had some joy in her life.

  9. regardless of your articulation you fail to realize that both are black in a way you will NEVER be. You bash one black woman in her portrayal of another black woman. The same white man who berated, hated, misused, and abused ALL black women. Your article even comes off racist and full bigotry. You don’t get to call one of OUR black queens a lie. You were better off giving this to someone black to publish. But this falls right in the entitled white ideology of getting to speak on whatever you want how you want. You don’t get that privilege. You don’t get to bash one African queen in the pretense of defending another. As much as you try you don’t and can’t truly feel the Nina Simone presence because you are part of the group who despised her blackness and you show this through the ridicule and belittling of Zoe’s blackness. So yes, Zoe’s portrayal is may offend some, be ill advised, and even be a stupid career move but Nina Simone’s legacy will be just fine and the BLACK community will make sure of that. We definitely don’t need you, in your infinite absence of blackness, to help the cause.

    1. but.. where was he lying? The truth doesn’t change form because someone else says it. So it’ll be better for one of us black folk to drag Zoe for Nina, further perpetuating the black people can’t get along narrative but if a white guy says something to defend, he’s automatically wrong?

      Comments like yours are what is causing white fatigue. Black people want white people to understand so badly but when they are asked questions, black people say “it’s not about you.” This world may be small but it still quite large so not everyone knows everything about everyone. He wrote this based on the feelings of how black people in general and highly doubt he pulled his comments from his ass. Regardless of his race, he is defending a legend someone he is probably a fan of.

      What will the black community do exactly? We go to Twitter and insult Zoe Saldana but at the end she still is cast in big name movies making millions while we are mad in a corner crying over a movie white people never even cared about. To make change have an impact, you invite EVERYONE to participate not just your own. Imagine if a white man said #blacklivesmatter? Would you tell him “shut up! you sound racist defending us!” what?

      We don’t like Zoe Saldana and she’s not full black so if her other half wants to call her stupid (in any dialect he chooses) I say go for it. Black colloquialism is part of pop culture now just as white ones are so him speaking in this way is as mockery as me saying “dude” in California and I am an Igbo girl from Nigeria.

      We need to learn to pick our battles. Fighting this guy is NOT one of them.

      1. Thank you!!!!!
        I can’t believe the narrow mindedness of some people.
        This man is white but he is an ally and his voice is welcome. The shame of people saying he’s not welcome just BECAUSE he’s white? That is what we come to??

        One thing conservatives always laugh at liberals about is silly things like this. It just adds fuel to the fire. EVERYONE is welcome. If they’re using their voice to say the RIGHT things, then bring them on! The more the merrier. Thank you Jennifer and your voice of reason!

    2. This is so many shades of ridiculousness.
      I guess you as a man don’t get to speak for us women following your own logic?
      I guess me as a dark heavyset woman doesn’t get to decide for myself if Mr. Overfield is allowed a voice in this?
      I guess the many positive responses to Mr. Overfield’s article from women of color whom look like Nina are all invalid?
      The fact that those responses to Mr. Overfield all over facebook and Twitter outweigh ones like yours might’ve told you something but I guess that fact was lost on you.

      This is some wannabe Cornel West intellectualism you vomited out. When I got to the part where you told Mr. Overfield he should’ve given this to a black woman to publish? So he’s correct in what he said but it’s him being a white man that makes him unallowed to say it?

      Then you say he’s part of the group who despised Nina’s blackness? No sir. He is an ally and you need to recognize and choose your battles. We need allies and always have, and always will! You’re acting as you speak for all of us and that black people are a monolith. Mr. Overfield is supposed to listen to YOU? Because why? Because YOU say so?

      You can’t even get the facts straight. Mr. Overfield didn’t “ridicule and belittle Zoe’s blackness.” You’re no better than them people that claim all of this is about Zoe being black enough. Mr. Overfield says the opposite. Mr. Overfield is responding to specific comments Zoe herself made. No where does he attack her blackness. This isn’t the first article Mr. Overfield wrote and in all of them I’ve read he says it very clear how it’s not about Zoe’s blackness.

      Every single word in this is truth. I applaud Mr. Overfield for his ability and willingness to say it. I know I’m not the only woman of color or any other race or sex for that matter, to applaud him. You don’t get the privilege of speaking for all of us or telling Mr. Overfield if he is not needed.

      He has done more for Nina Simone’s legacy than any one commenting here. It doesn’t take much research to know that much.

      Thank you Mr. Overfield for writing this article. Your voice is not unwanted or unwelcome here.

  10. Mr. Overfield THANK YOU for writing this. Breath of fresh air and you dug in with guts.
    Keep using your voice and please keep up the work for Nina Simone’s legacy.
    I Googled a lot about you and wrote to Nina’s daughter who said the most wonderful things about you.
    If she’s got your back then why wouldnt’ everyone else.

    Thank you Mr. Overfield!

  11. YASSSS!!! Aaron you rock!! I am a dark African-American haired woman like Nina and my mom used to play her records while doing house work all the time. I LOVE what you said because I’m tired of the acceptably colored black stars using really dark people’s stories to give them credence with the black community, while making them special and garnering sympathy from the liberal white Hollywood machine. We dark sisters have always been shunned and pushed aside by our own men for the fairer skinned “better hair” females who now take our stories and pain and portray us, without considering a more melanon-ed actor/actress would be suitable for the role. This is basically my issue with Beyonce as well, but don’t get me started.

  12. I RESPECT the author’s OPINION, but I would be MORE upset if the argument was about her NOT being able to bring any artistic integrity to the role as opposed to her Skin Tone or features? I GET peoples PASSION about someone portraying their favorite Artist. I felt the same way when they where talking about Nick Cannon, playing Richard Pryor?!?!?!? Luckily the role RIGHTFULLY went to Mike Epps (who ironically plays Richard In Zoe-helmed Nina Simone film). So I GET the passion, but bashing a woman of color, who I’m sure isn’t doing this with any malice or ill-will toward Nina or her family, is kinda wack. Artist sometimes alter themselves to be able to “pull off” a ROLE.

  13. Mr Overfield yeeeeeeees!
    Nina Simone spirit is powerful enough to return from the Grave – Climb into your willing avatar and speak from the 7th layer of the outter firmaments – Thank u for allowing your spirit to be a spiritual vessel! ????!

    All nationalities want to be black….that is until the Cops show up (Then its no speaka engles)

    If you grew up on Nina – Like we did on the south side of Chicago thn you get it – If not you can watch her speak for herself
    How dare the be as Unaologetically Blue fuck’n black as she was at that time and this happens
    Try that bullshit with the…
    Celia Cruz Story Bitch!

    Zoe need a Haitian Ass whoop’n with a melinated slap to send her pride and fake Prosthetic nose flying Across Hispaniola!

    Saw the movie – Horrible script – Over acting – Make up artist has her black face in 42 shade of Blackface & 12 tribes of isreal frame by frame????????
    And if that wasn’t Enough of a mockery to the Queens LegacY
    This Bitch tried to sing
    -Did ya’ll hear me
    This Bitch Zoe Zelwho gives a fuck
    Decided to sing?
    Didn’t even try to sound like Nina
    ???? (I swear to God at first I thought – What – did they get a white girl to do the voice dubs) then I said is that Zoe Voice?
    The film Maker (A white man) Damn Near apologize before the movie started and after!
    That’s what we Get Black folk!
    White folks don’t give a shit about destroying and tainting the legacy of our Royalty and it ain’t there job to keep our legacy in tact!

    Until we Unite
    Beyonce – Will Smith – Denzel – Oprah – Tyler – Spike Lee – Stephen King comeOn….
    we gone end up with Bullshit like this straight to DVD for $1 buck bootleg in Harlem on 125th
    It will be an intro to Nina for first timers!

    ????????Don’t ever!

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