Earlier in the year it emerged that Zoe Saldana had been cast to play Nina Simone in the music legends first biopic. Hollywood has been instrumental in producing a constant stream of deftly executed movies that painstakingly select leads that not only capture the essence of the performer, but also the look. Unforgettable biopics such as Ray, Cadillac Records and What’s Love Got To Do With It featured starred leading actors that not only acted the part, but looked it too.
Naturally when the Dominican actress Saldana was cast to play the African American singer, a public furore ensued. With her long flowing locks, European features and caramel complexion she could not look more different to the woman she will portray.
It didn’t take long before images from the set were leaked to the public, showing the actress covered in darkened make up, wearing a prosthetic nose, to mimic the strong African features of Nina Simone. While I believe Zoe to be an accomplished and capable actress, I felt uncomfortable at the idea of blackening up in the 21st century; do we really want to rejuvenate the blackened Minstels of the 1920’s? America has a long, dark history of parodying ‘blackness’ with uncomfortable parallels being drawn between this modern incident and the Aunt Jemima/ Golly wogs merchandise.
There are hundreds of dark-skinned actresses that would benefit hugely from a part specifically showcasing a woman of their own colour. With most roles closed off to them, it would have been a perfect opportunity to give a rising star a chance to shine. Alternatively, actresses such as Viola Davis or Kerry Washington would have given the role a similar looking lead while giving dark skinned children an identifiable role model to look up too.
When will Hollywood celebrate the beautiful diversity of their country and update these backward views; why paint a woman black when you could hire the real thing? I can only cast a full opinion once the film is aired, but I am both saddened and disappointed that on this occasion, a dark skinned woman missed out on a role that was rightfully hers.