Reverse colourism is not a thing. In this instance, colourism would see light skinned people of African decent viewed as more palatable and acceptable because of their complexion’s proximity to whiteness. Like racism, colourism is a social construct centuries in the making and while those it subjugates are able to be prejudice towards light skinned people, they are unable to fully subject light skinned people to what they as dark skinned people have endured. Reverse racism and reverse colourism are not real things. Watch Aameer Rahman explain it in his bit for his tour Fear of a Brown Planet.
When I say Zoe Saldana is ill-equipped to play Nina Simone, it is not me being prejudice because she is a light skinned black woman of mixed heritage, I am simply commenting on what I saw in the new trailer released today for biopic film Nina. In order to play the role, Saldana had to wear a prosthetic nose and have dark make up applied to her skin. This was lazy and unnecessarily expensive (how much did that cost?) casting. The film’s producers in choosing Saldana have turned what could have been a fantastic, celebratory film into Twitter fodder. I am not saying that Zoe Saldana is not a capable actress. Anyone who has seen her early work in Center Stage and more recently in Colombiana will attest to her skill and range. The biggest irony of the trailer is the appearance of David Oyelowo considering his pitch perfect turn as Dr Martin Luther King Jnr in Ava DuVernay’s Selma.
Nina Simone was a dark skinned African American woman, Zoe Saldana is fair skinned and in this 2016, year of our Queen Shonda Rhimes, there is no reason that a real life person of whom we have picture and video should be played by an actress who, while she and Simone share race, look nothing alike. In the July 2015 issue of InStyle magazine, Saldana addressed the blacklash by saying “I didn’t think I was right for the part…but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either.” Saldana herself recognises the issue many would have with her casting and continued anyway because she was the “artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it.” I don’t know of any black actress in a position to turn down good work, so I’m not mad at Saldana for playing the role. However, the fact that she is fully cognisant even going as far to draw parallels between Hollywood’s white washing of Egyptian stories and herself playing Nina Simone, leaves me uncomfortable.
Angela Basset played Tina Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got To Do With It, we appreciated it and watch it still to this day. Jamie Fox was so brilliant in Ray that no one other than the nominees themselves will ever remember who was in the Best Actor category that year at the Oscars. Listen, if Hollywood can correctly cast Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, an imaginary comic book character, for heavens sake they can get Nina Simone right. IMDB and Casting Call Pro are burtsting at the seams with women more physically appropriate to play Miss Simone. Here are just two examples from @Luvvie’s Twitter page.
Do you have to be black to tell black stories? It would be nice but both Ray and What’s Love Got To Do With It were directed and cast by white people yet these films, to this day remain synonymous with excellence. That director and writer Cynthia Mort and casting director Hedi Levitt got this so wrong makes you wonder how much they care about the story they are telling. I am so happy that so many black women got to work because this film was made, however more care could have been taken. And don't get it twisted, if in 10 years time Terrence Howard is cast to play Barry White, when Rueben Studdard is literally standing right there, I’ll write this same blog and just find + replace Saldana’s name with Howard’s. To say that “light skinned privilege” is the only reason Zoe Saldana won the role is myopic and works to erase the enormity of her talent. However the concerted effort of the creators to have Saldana occupy a space where a dark skinned actress would have been a better fit is questionable at best and malicious at worst.
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