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Nina Simone & Zoe Saldana – The Politics of COLOR

Nina Simone & Zoe Saldana - The Politics of COLOR

Last night, my good friend sent me yet another article on Zoe Saldana. I have attempted to avoid this topic but here goes.

Bottom line, people are not comfortable with Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone because they believe that Zoe is “not ethnic enough”, “doesn’t have Nina’s features”, “doesn’t have Nina’s nose or lips”. Ummm, have you seen Zoe’s features? Basically, people are saying that Zoe is not black enough to play Nina Simone. How is that determined? 

I grew up on the Jersey Shore. A darker skinned child in a family of extremely light skinned black women. Luckily, I had aunts and uncles who represented every color of the black rainbow. But, growing up on the Jersey Shore, you learn to hate your blackness very quickly. Like many of us, it has taken me years to feel and take ownership of my blackness and my beauty.

We live in a culture that deifies white women. I mean, really. White women are dripping from every movie screen in varied roles: insipid, dramatic, funny, responsible, activist, whatever, you name it, there is a white woman for you. I lived in a family where the black men dated white women. Yes, that was a helluva message to send to a little black girl. I wondered, do my Uncles not like black women? Is there something about black women that is too disgusting to date? I was scarred by that. I can’t explain it but I felt it.

As an adult, I came to understand what Dr. King said, “the heart only knows another heart.” Certainly, there are some people who hate themselves and won’t date anything that resembles the curvature of their nose and lips. There are various psychological reasons for why someone may date outside of their race. But, ultimately, I believe, as Dr. King said, “a heart only knows another heart.” After years of waking up to the same person, seeing them in the worst light, having someone have your back and help you get through the everyday; if you sustain years of that, color is meaningless.

I have listened to Zoe Saldana. She is a pretty fierce woman. Have you listened to her?! She is claiming her blackness and her right to portray Nina Simone. She is saying that she is a black woman and has every right to play Nina. What else does she need to say?! She isn’t saying, “I don’t have Nina’s features so I can’t play her.” She is saying, I have Nina’s features, I am a black woman. And, she said, if Elizabeth Taylor can play Cleopatra, I can play Nina Simone. Yes! Basically, if a white woman can play a black woman, certainly she, as a black woman, can play a black woman.

In a recent BET interview, Ms. Saldana also stated that she believes there are “no people of color”. I can’t put words in her mouth but I think she was saying that she resists how people are categorized. She, perhaps, was trying to say that people should be judged by their character and not their skin color. For those looking to find fault with her, they jumped on this without giving it much thought. We all would like that to be the goal.

However, we live in America where ‘color construction’ is real. Color matters. It places one set of human beings above another. And, impacts us financially, emotionally, psychologically, etc. Her views feel a bit naive. And, I can’t imagine anyone having that view after having portrayed Nina Simone. It will be interesting to see her field questions during interviews for the film. But, this does not negate her right to portray Nina. I want every actor who portrays one of our best to be as fearless as they were. I want Denzel to be Malcolm X. Ain’t happening. They are actors, simply, delivering glimpses of our heroes.

We live in an era where the Obamas are lecturing to black students AS THEY GRADUATE COLLEGE. These students are not drop-outs. These students are not “welfare queens”. These are the BEST and THE BRIGHTEST who have achievement in their eyes. And, have beat the odds. Why, oh why, do they need to be lectured to about responsibility? Why are they not being applauded, told of their fierceness and being given instruction on how to navigate the racist world they are about to enter. The best thing the Obamas can do is offer these students the tools that they used to navigate the culture. Not talk down to them. These students should be praised and given wings.

I am tired of the dual messaging. I am tired of “celebrity” (yes, the Obamas among them) skirting the issue of racism. It’s real. It’s not imagined. Even in their high brow world, it exists. And, they are a shining example of how we can navigate the culture. But, because they act is if “it’s all good”, we are left scratching our heads wondering why the majority of black folks are still suffering on the margins. Hello! The playing field is not even and the “celebrities” are not addressing this because they’re comfortable. Well, except for Kanye West, whose music I dig. But, his Kim Kardashian choice has left me scratching my head. Not because she is white (or, whatever she is) but because she represents the system that Kanye is railing against.

Nina Simone, James Baldwin, Harriet Tubman, etc., I could go on. These darker skinned black Americans experienced life through a different lens. I got that. I understand that. And, lighter skinned black women cannot speak to my experience as a darker skinned black woman. But, our overall experience connects us because we are black women. We have to find the bridge that is going to bring us together as women of varied shades.

Their is a high degree of ‘colorism’ that still exists among black folks. It’s in how we date. What we value. What we see as ugly or pretty. What we consider “fine”. We have some deep, ugly issues that need to be addressed. And, the casting of Zoe is bringing it all to the surface. The controversy is happening because Zoe is a woman. Hell, Denzel played Malcolm X. Uhhh, hello, did we compare their complexions and features?! NO! We just let Denzel do his job! I am still wondering how Tyler Perry has received such a pass, dressing in prosthetics, donning a wig and making a joke of older black women.

We want a woman to play Nina, who looks like Nina, because we know how much it takes to prize a woman who looks like Nina. We know the pain it takes to accept and love our features that resemble Nina’s. I also know that we need to see more dark skinned black women on the big screen. We need to see a dark skinned black woman, on the screen, front and center, who is not downtrodden and forlorn. I got that.

But, I am not going to malign Ms. Saldana for accepting a job. Instead, I will appreciate that she is saying, “yes, this is who I am.” Zoe playing Nina adds a complexity to the discussion that forces us to say, “we, black women, are all one”. Zoe is standing in the mirror stating, “I am Nina and you are, too.” And, the haters are saying, “No, you aren’t Nina. You aren’t black like she is.” In essence, they are saying, “Neither am I.” Nina is other- even in the realm of black womanhood. DEEP!

I am an ardent Nina Simone fan. She is one of my SHEROES. Few outdo Nina. On every level. Intelligence. Conviction. Beauty. Raging against the machine. Unapologetic blackness. Brilliance. Genius. Madness. All of it. It’s all there. You do not live in black skin, in a female body, in america, with that level of genius and not scrape the depths of despair. I can imagine that, although a “successful” black actress in Hollywood, Zoe Saldana has experienced racism. It will be interesting to see how she evolves.

In a sea of Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, all these children trying to look like a barbie doll, Zoe is saying, I am black and I am proud of it. And, I connect with my sisters on a human level. We are in this together, no matter what shade, what hair length, what road we have taken. We are black women who have a shared experience. It doesn’t matter where on the ‘black features’ scale you fall. You are encased in your experience as a black woman. And, Nina Simone was one of our best.

Nina Simone, in many ways, has saved my life, my sanity. She grounds me. She is the voice that says, ‘you are not alone’. Listen to her interviews. See what she stands for. Listen to ‘Four Women’ and how she connects all black women. ALL! It is heartbreaking genius. What are we doing? What is the argument really about? We have to do some soul searching, here. Okay, Zoe wore prosthetics. I don’t care. It’s about her soul, her intention, her performance. Did you see ‘La Vie En Rose’ about the life of Edith Piaf? Marion Cotillard played Edith. Marion looked nothing like Piaf. They put her in make-up and wigs and maybe even prosthetics. You didn’t hear the french say, “she is not french enough to play Edith Piaf”!

I don’t play when it comes to Ms. Nina. And, I will rail against this film if it is an abomination. But, I am willing to wait. I want to give Zoe the chance to bring some of Nina’s brilliance to the screen. Many said, “how about Viola Davis, or, or, or…”. I’m sure Viola could have rocked it, blown it out of the universe, if she didn’t play the ‘victim’ note.

You see, the thing about Zoe is, she speaks her truth. She speaks her mind and heart. She’s pretty fearless. I don’t know many black women celebrities who, in these times, are doing that. It is not enough to say, yes, I am a black woman. It is more powerful to say, I am ALL black women. You better be coming with a royal fierceness to play Nina, and, so far, I’ve seen hints of it in Zoe.

No one will ever capture the full Nina. She was one of a kind. But, we will get a glimpse of her. And, perhaps, little black girls (and boys) like me, who grew up on the Jersey Shore (or wherever) will get to know Nina Simone sooner and will take years of self-hatred off of their lives.

**I will not comment on Nina Simone’s daughter’s views about Zoe Saldana portraying her mother. I cannot imagine how she must feel. A clear choice would have been Nina’s daughter. And, I believe her disagreement is about the screenplay. I am on board with that argument. I believe in truth and authenticity in the screenplay. Again, if the movie is an abomination, I will rage against it!**

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at Or visit

This Article is related to: Features


Justin W

*sit down, grabs popcorn, and read the comment section*

julius Hollingsworth

Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare ,both have men dressing in female clothing give Tyler a break.He's telling stories the way he see's it.Zoe is an actress and I say again it's all about the dollar her films gross the most she gets the job.Eddie can play men women,chinese and Zoe can't play Nina?I just hope she plays the part well.On the other hand I myself would have liked to have seen lauryn Hill play Nina.She is a fine actress and singer.But i'm open to Zoe surprising me.I hope the makeup is better on her than it was on Cicely Tyson playing Coretta .When the stars align great work happens.All of this is subjective anyway.One man or ladies joy is another's trash.I hope everybody works.Actors should be able to play a chair if they like.Just do it well.


Sorry Tanya I disagree, it isn't just colorism why Zoe Saldana has been rejected by the black community for playing Nina Simone. It is also the cynicism a lot of black folks have that white Hollywood believes they cannot sell a movie about a dark skinned bold and defiant black woman they have to cast a mixed race Hispanic. Tanya also ignores the fact Zoe Saldana like Rosario Dawson plays with race. Zoe Saldana like Rosario Dawson is only black when it suits her career. When Colombiana came out last year Saldana was all about Latin this and Latin that. Yes, we know Saldana is a black Latina but damn it Nina Simone was discriminated against BECAUSE she was a dark skinned black woman. Simone sang her songs from life experience she got grief for not being light, bright, damn near white during her career. Zoe Saldana is the "It" black lady at the moment she's replaced Halle Berry as the light skinned image of black womanhood that can sell to white and international audiences. I won't be seeing this Nina Simone flick I would prefer to see a real dark skinned black woman in the role. Race matters and so does skin colour and I'm not going to play the politically correct game it matters damn it!


Trying to remember if there was similar outrage from white people when Charlize Theron donned prosthetics a wig and gained 50 lbs for her role in Monster. Oh yeah, there wasn't any, now I remember. Just another example how the double fuck works for black actors… hard to find work and impossible to please our (sic) community. At some point you just stop trying. As it's been pointed out already, this debate is laced with misogyny since black male actors aren't subject to the same skin color scrutiny when playing biopic roles. Woven in these threads is the unspoken, tragic rivalry between field and house Negroes whose heartfelt POV continues to divide. Massa done played us to the bone, in fact, to the bloody marrow.

Aaron O

As other people have pointed out, this post is a mess. It’s messy, disjointed, and out of focus. Worse than that, the author begins to make the case against the Zoe casting but then takes some inexplicable leap in logic where she turns her statements on their head and is suddenly supportive of the casting. It’s hard to know where to begin with this piece. I’ll speak to only the parts having to do with the Nina film. The rest, I just don’t know…maybe this is two articles, two articles in one.

From the outset, Ms. Steele discloses she’s personally familiar with racism and colorism. She admits that hatred of one’s blackness is engrained at an early age. She further admits that white skin is deified. (Ms. Steele puts forth the argument that white women are deified but I believe what she’s actually stating is that white skin is deified, and for purposes of this argument I believe it’s important to be clear about that, and as such it is quite true.)

She even further continues to admit that color construction is real, color matters, and I believe she would agree that colorism exists. At least, from everything she’s laid out, it would be hard for me to imagine her claiming colorism doesn’t exist. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, though.

Curiously, though, she does admit that darker skinned individuals do have different experiences than lighter skinned individuals, an experience which they have no ability to speak to. Then, in the same breath, she turns her logic on its head and claims that since all black people are black, their overall experience connects them, therefore the bridge must be found to connect all black people.

And this is where I call bullshit.

First, let me bring up a point by another commenter (although obviously I disagree with the overall message presented in his post):

“Ras The Extorter” rightfully claims that Nina’s music is a personal experience to people of other races and ethnicities, too. He’s very right. Although I’ve been involved with Nina’s legacy for over 10 years now, I’m white. I’m pretty much just your basic white guy. Although “basic” probably isn’t accurate. My mother moved away from my grandparents to get away from their racism (they had moved her to the country when she was a little girl because a black classmate called her on the phone), so my life from the outset was one in which I was made aware of racism, in all its insidious forms. I believe this is a more common upbringing now, but at the time it wasn’t. I lived in the city, had a rainbow of friends and classmates, grew up on House Music (real House, not whatever crap they’re playing in clubs and radios today and calling it “House” simply because it resembles a 4/4 beat), and because of that was surround by such a diverse group of people that it makes my skin crawl to even use the word diverse because that means I’m focusing on everyone’s arbitrary differences simply for the sake of this argument. Because, when we are all together, it doesn’t even cross my mind that we’re a diverse group since we’re just us.

I bring all of this up because, to Ras The Extorter’s point, yes, people of other races and ethnicities have a very personal connection to Nina’s music. And even some of us can see how horribly wrong this film has been from the outset for the memory and legacy of Nina Simone.

More importantly, I bring this up because of where I called bullshit.

Ms. Steele paints a pretty picture. One in where all black people are expected to hold hands and sing kumbaya simply because they are all black, even though in her previous breath she admitted that they each have their own experience, which a lot of times can’t be spoken to. What’s curious about this is how limited and shortsighted it is and how it puts black people in a bind that I’m not put in as a white person.

Not all white people are expected to bridge the gap and identify with one another simply because we are white. I have more in common (experience-wise and personality-wise) with people of other races and ethnicities than I do with other white people of different social, economic, and geographical backgrounds. Why is it that Ms. Steele implies that all black people should be expected to magically identify and bond with one another due solely on the fact that they happen to be two black people? Taken a step further, why imply this when to do so requires one ignore personal responsibility in the face of things like colorism?

Ms. Steele and supporters of Zoe’s role in this film all cry “colorism” against individuals who list reasons why Zoe was inappropriate for this particular role (and I am limiting this argument to this particular role, since some of these points are only applicable to Nina Simone because of what made Nina Simone oh so very Nina Simone). This stance and view of colorism truly boggles the mind.


Zoe needs to understand that no one is attacking her personally – it is the principle of it all.
So does everyone else who assume folks are bringing up the argument that Zoe isn't 'black' enough to play her. It has nothing to do with Zoe's features (hair, skin tone, nose, lips) vs. Nina's (hair, skin tone, nose, lips). I think collectively, we've always respected and admired Zoe's work. No one complained about her starring in "Drumline", "Guest Who", "Star Trek" etc. Not a word was said of her not being 'black/ethnic' enough to star in those roles that were written for black women.
Rather, the annoying issue is the lack of justice being served to Mrs. Simone. It irks me. It is a disservice to her legacy. Our icons are consistently "white-washed" by Hollywood. More so our iconic women. Especially in the case of Mrs. Simone. Her entire body of work captured her struggle in this industry and in society – how can you not honor that through the selection of the individual portraying her?
It is very difficult to comprehend that Zoe Saldana stroke the senses of the casting director as Nina Simone. And it has absolutely nothing against Zoe — I'd say the same for Idris Elba & Terrance Howard portraying Nelson Mandela and Jennifer Hudson portraying Winnie. These individuals are far from the core of these legends. And yes, looks actually do go a long way — in addition to talent.
If prosthetics, a bad weave and foundation 5Xs darker than your shade (pretty much a Halloween costume) are used resulting in an actor appearing more realistic to an actual person, then that is ample indication that perhaps this actor wasn't the best choice from a plethora of actors who would have been the proper individual to cast….
I am certain there would be an uproar in the Latina or Hispanic community if for instance Reagan Gomez-Preston were to be cast as La Lupe or if Tatyana Ali were to play Celia Cruz. The essence of these icons should reflect in the persona and image of the actors that play them.

I am in unity with everyone else — the overwhelming amount of articles, mentions and discourse this continues to get is ridiculous.
The ticket sales at the opening will speak for itself of how folks really feel about it.
To be honest, I'm getting a sinking feeling that certain organizations like the Academy Awards, SAG etc. will award this film in spite…..


Now will someone hurry up and write a good Miriam Makeba screenplay before Holly-weird gets it's slimy paws on it (if they haven't already). There's also Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Pearl Bailey, Audre Lorde, Sojourner Truth, etc., etc. Keep them low budget and fund your projects through Kickstarter. Do a good job – but hurry!


LMAO! Come on folks, this is kinda silly. Why are your expectations so high concerning Hollywood? Am I missing something? Are we talking about the same Hollywood? The one with the gratuitous sex, violence, misogyny, ignorance? Hollywood, aka Birth of a Nation-wood, Mediocre-wood, Holly-weird, Holly-won't, Holly-can't. That Hollywood? Why do you want to change how Hollywood does things! Or hope that someday they will? You like watching paint dry or something? Hollywood, nowadays, is as compelling as Wal-mart. You'll just keep getting your heart broken into pieces if you expect Hollywood to put out the images you so desire. What I want to know is where is your Nina Simone screenplay? Hello screenwriters? Where's the Kickstarter campaign to fund your movie with a talented, darker skinned actress to play Nina? (crickets) WE TOO SLOW, we spend all our time complaining about what Hollywood ain't letting us do. Make a film about Nina Simone. Adapt it from her autobiography, "I put a spell on you" to get it as authentic as possible. Get her family's blessing and input. Cast her daughter. Do something so that when somebody googles "Nina Simone" or "Nina Simone movie" not only will Zoe's film come up but so will yours, too. But on this other Hollywood stuff, my people, let's let it go. Hollywood is just not that into you. There's plenty of other fish in the sea.


Lord have mercy, I can only imagine what the comments section will look like when the movie does come out. lol.
Until then I will reserve judgment.


Alright already black folk, leave the girl alone. COLOR COLOR COLOR, HAIR HAIR HAIR, that is the only damn thang' we seem to care about, argue about, and cut each other down about. It's sickening, and this is the reason why we have not prospered as a race, and will never prosper as a race.


I get so very upset about this topic as I'm appalled and disgusted that sooooo many people don't recognize the real issue behind this. IT IS NOT ABOUT ZOE NOT BEING BLACK ENOUGH!!!! It it about her sh*ting on the very essence of who Nina was and what she stood for in an attempt to claim that she's honoring Nina.

As A_Love shared, Zoe isn't hurting for work. She didn't have to do this movie. It's an utter disgrace and mockery of Nina and the fact that Zoe would so quickly dismiss the critique of this casting and the feelings of soooooo many "true" Nina fans shows her blatant indifference to a woman she claims to admire.

Let me put it like this: Ms. Saldana, thank you for being the "house n*gger" for Hollywood. All you care about it your check because there's NO WAY you could know ANYTHING about Nina's life, struggle, and activism if you have play her in blackface and a fake nose. But you just keep shuckin' and jivin' for Hollywood like a good lil' "I'm black and I'm proud" puppet.

I don't care that it's "her job" or "her right". The struggle for black voices and black faces in Hollywood isn't over!!! Her taking this job and clenching it like it's her only opportunity is a slap in the face to every black actor that paved the way for her. Worse than that, it reinforces Hollywood's "right" to not only continue to snub black actors but also to disrespect our icons.

HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THAT?!?!?! Cause is 2013 and we gots ourselves a black president???


Thanks for nothing Zoe.

And to all those saying, "I'll judge it after I see it", guess what? You judge it by buying that ticket. You really think anyone in Hollywood gives 2 cents about your opinion AFTER they have your money?

Just shuck and jive right behind Zoe…

Ras The Exhorter

I love it when the Willie Lynch wins again!

Black people are seriously trippin' 'cause Zoe S. ain't dark-skinned (with the associated feature set) enough?

Uh, where was all the cryin' foul when Denzel Washington played Brother Malcolm, when Denzel is clearly several shades DARKER than Malcolm!!?!

Get a grip on your humanity, rationality and intellect, and relinquish your double-edged sword (silent "w") in the never-ending Shade Wars that so, so, so ardently fades the fuq out of us!

In regards to the story — you want authenticity? Don't see the movie, read one or two books about her (or isn't like Chris Rock said, "Black people don't read… books are like Kryptonite to Black people); all a movie can do is capture the essence of someone in a 110min snapshot of what we all know, Nina Simone's case, was an extra-extra full life.

If Zoe S. felt it was more authentic, yet not necessarily completely accurate to darken her skin and wear a wig (like Black women don't wear wigs!!!) and prosthetics, then let it roll… the emotional truth is what matters… in a movie (even if the story points are compressed or re-envision to attain that emotional truth, which they always are).

The dingy lamination on the "Black Enough" card (e.g. the Ghetto Pass) is extra-shop worn, and that tired-ass card is specifically now still carried and gauchely played by jealous, insecure "haters"… the real questions are:

Who the hell are you to pass sweeping judgments on what it means to be "Black enough"?

Do you happen to dispense Ph. Ds on how "Blackness"' is defined, and under whose authority are you granting these Ph. Ds? Is your university accredited to do so?

What constitutes a passing dissertation in the academic category of the acceptable level of "Blackness"?

How would you suggest one become "Black enough" if one happens not to fall within your egregiously- and narrowly-defined rubric? Become a felon? Be a Baby's Mama… multiple times? Sport a natural hair cut and reject any and all attempts to straighten your hair (or get dreds)? Spit Ebonics as your only language pattern of choice (which begs the subquestion, Ebonics from what area of the country, 'cause that's important too)?

Can you give recommendations on how one can effectively oscillate between being "Black enough" for the so-called streets and "keepin' it real" types, and then how to effectively and seamlessly dial it back such that one can accumulate real wealth (outside of crime or sports)?

If Zoe S. can't experience the unbridled benefits of White Privilege, then she's Black enough!

Also, don't think that so-called light-skinned Blacks can't understand and effectively articulate the pain of darker skinned Blacks… Just ask Ralph Ellison; Invisible Man sure puts it down and gets into the full ethos of what's like to suffer the injustices of just being Black in America.

And I can't stand it when people complain about Liz Taylor portraying Cleopatra, WHO WAS NOT BLACK, because she was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Greek family that had been installed on the throne of Egypt — so think Jennifer Aniston ('cause her real name is Anastasakis) — but with black hair or, perhaps even more appropriate, Monica Belucci… but certainly not an American Black woman who descends from West Africa with their completely different physical traits. No disrespect to the exquisite aesthetic beauty of American Black woman, either. Far from it, but don't get it twisted.

Also, how do we compare and contrast beauty in the late 20th/early 21st century AD with beauty norms in the late 1st century BC in the eastern Mediterranean? I don't think we properly can, very little photographic evidence to draw upon… so do we even know what "beauty" meant to Caesar and Marc Antony? Perhaps just exotic… spending years in Gaul and Germannia amongst legionnaires can corrupt your sense of beauty…

And yes, PART of the essence of Nina Simone's story is her rejoicing the beauty of her timbre of the Black aesthetic, but that's not the whole story — and here's why, because that's not ever the whole story… the trascendental nature of her music is a huge part of her story.

Do you think without the "mainstream" acceptance of her music that her fight for dignity would be something that we'd know about? I doubt it, because millions of Black women have fought AND WON that same fight for dignity in a country/culture that real takes a dump on Black beauty, and we don't know who the hell 95% of them are!

Her music is personal to many, in more ways than we can imagine… because it means something to Black men, and to men and women of other races and ethnicities too. Let's not forget that, otherwise the movie wouldn't have got made at all.

At the end of the day, there will be more people who don't see the movie, and know of and love Nina Simone (including what she looked and sounded like) and rejoice in what she stood for, than those who do see the movie.

A hit movie is seen by maybe what? 5 – 8 million people, and there are how many Black people in this country? A good 30 million. And of that 5 – 8 million, at least 30% will be non-Black.

Hear, take the mic back.


Zoe is really not a box-office draw…most people won't see this film and as an avid movie goer, I certainly can't support this. She claims latina first and when deem fit claim being black. I rather have seen a new actor (India Arie would have been fine with me) conquer the role. Every person can't play every role with conviction.


Okay, I agree with Blutopaz, August Wasoba, TAZ and Willie Dynamite. But lets start with what I do not agree with:

"Let's see…another Nina/Zoe controversy post, TWO posts invoking Tyler Perry (one of which was both a stretch and a repeat), and two other posts explicitly requesting comments in their titles. Is the advertising quarter about to end or something? Should we expect a Django or The Help post soon?"

I believe that was a low blow and very shortsighted. Listen, it goes without question that Shadow and Act/IndieWire has a tracking system which logs the number of hits (not comments) on it's site. Furthermore, those who do comment are a very small-small-small fraction of that total. So comments, per se, are not the defining factor in determining a blog's "ad" worth.

It's my belief that Tambay and his supporters are simply giving his readers a platform to discuss/debate/read/vent/rant and comment. It's that simple. Granted, they may have chosen a few topics that are "controversial" but again, those posts are only a fraction of all their presentation. Personally, I think it's a smart move because:

"we support black folk that do what we like, say what we would say, look like we would look, feel like we would feel, stand like we stand, lie like we lie, marry who we would marry, and on and on and on"

I am suggesting that in the comment section there are familiar faces. They, me, you, she, he is there because of the – above.

I agreed with Blutopaz. In particular, I didn't agree with how Tanya took our president and his wife's words out of context.

On the "rant" tip, I agree with TAZ, in that, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a rant. As long as I get the message or messages, I could care less about how someone defines her words. Call it a fart or a whack or a snack or an attack… I DON'T CARE. In fact, although I may not agree with everything Tanya says, I enjoy how her words appear as if she's writing as she would talk. Hell, in natural face-to-face conversation, each of our thoughts do not have error free, well scripted transitional phrasing. NO-IT-DOES-NOT (we skip around, pause, laugh, go back, come back, pause, tone up, tone down, look away and come back). Does that mean the most significant issues were not delivered, nor understood? NOPE.

Finally, Willie Dynamite said enough for me, and TAZ topped it off…

"We complain about not having enough of OUR stories made, and when one gets made about Nina Simone, a woman Hollywood would never make a film about, we attack the globally known actress that signed on to portray her" ~ Willie

"it reminds me to add the Nina Simone story to my experiment" ~ Taz

The present score is movies 2… black folks – zero

geoffrey thorne

diana ross looks NOTHING like Billie Holiday.

as much as we would like it to be otherwise, this story has been lying there , not being told, for decades.

If the people who took up the gauntlet to make this story which, let's be honest, will not be as resonant with a so-called "mainstream" audience as it will with ours, want to hedge their bet by casting a reasonably talented, very beautiful woman in the role that was lived by a woman who was, probably more gifted in her arena but not as traditionally attractive, then that is their right.

Zoe will put asses in the seats. Considerably more than a found footage documentary about Nina would.

I'm sorry, but that's the truth.


Simply stated…I'm not buying it!


I really wanted to like this article and when I isolate the paragraphs that just concern the subject of Zoe, colorism and Nina, I pretty much like the article, as I am darker than a paper bag. Outside of that, I agree with BLUTOPAZ. The rest was all over the place and seems to be added in because it may have been a rant that was on the heart – and this whole article was a rant – so it fit in from that pov.

Also my current pet peeve was touched on by Willie Dynamite.

And it reminds me to add the Nina Simone story to my experiment.


“And, I believe her disagreement is about the screenplay. I am on board with that argument. I believe in truth and authenticity in the screenplay. Again, if the movie is an abomination, I will rage against it!”

But that is the very issue. The movie has already been said to be inauthentic. One glaring inaccuracy is Nina’s lover, who was a gay man in real life. You are defending a portrayal in a movie interpretation that won’t even have basic facts right.

“In a recent BET interview, Ms. Saldana also stated that she believes there are "no people of color"”.

That’s great and all, but most of the rest of the world doesn’t think that way, so we’re back to square one.

“The controversy is happening because Zoe is a woman. Hell, Denzel played Malcolm X. Uhhh, hello, did we compare their complexions and features?! NO! We just let Denzel do his job!”

There definitely may be a sexist element to this, but I believe it has more to do with proven acting talent. By the time Denzel did the Malcolm X biopic, he was an Academy Award nominated actor. People BELIEVE Denzel when he portrays characters. People don’t believe Zoe nearly as much.

Also, don’t forget that Angela Bassett successfully portrayed Tina Turner. Again, it was because people BELIEVED Angela in that role.

“I am still wondering how Tyler Perry has received such a pass, dressing in prosthetics, donning a wig and making a joke of older black women”.

Probably because the Tyler Perry in drag character is a pretty generic character. Believe me, if Tyler was dressing up as Mahalia Jackson, there would be hell to pay.


Oh please spare me. People aren't mad because Zoe isn't "black enough" (whatever that means). People are mad because they know that Nina Simone was about embracing your own natural beauty whatever you looked liked. The way she looked helped to shape and define her politics and her view of the world. How do you make a movie about Nina Simone and completely ignore those facts? This casting sends the same message that Nina got her entire life; that she and women who look like her aren't beautiful and aren't worthy of the same praise that their lighter counterpoints receive. Nina said herself that she would like to see Whoopi Goldberg portray her in a movie about her life. If Zoe has the right to play her in a movie then we have the right to be mad about it and not support it. Let's not even get into the fact that the entire script is based on a lie. I guess we shouldn't be upset though. Since the story is a lie I guess it only makes sense that a bad imitation in blackface, a messed up Party City Afro wig and prosthetics play the fake Nina with the fake lover who was really an openly gay man. If anyone else feels the same way we do come on over to


I know Tanya is a professional writer. But I find some of her pieces for this site to be rather fragmented as if they consist of several ideas and she wants to join them into one essay. This posting does not seem cohesive to me with the main point she is trying to make. And her points are either overly simplified, inaccurate or she skips accuracies altogether:

1) What do the Obama commencement speeches, KimYe and "dual messaging" have to do with Zoe being cast as Nina Simone? And if anyone wants to, they can clearly see where during Obama's commencement speech at Morehouse he congratulated these young men on their success, and said these exact words: "Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there." How is this "talking down to them" and ignoring racism in an effort to be safe? He was applauded throughout his speech, doesn't sound to me like they were insulted by what you believe was his condescending tone.

And speaking of "talking down", you dismiss Zoe's critics with comments that they are out to malign her, etc. In the next breath you refer to Viola Davis as "playing the victim note" with absolutely no explanation. Ironic much?

2) The claim that Zoe is getting heat because she's a woman: as pointed out numerous times in the other zillion Zoe as Nina threads, no one raised hell about Angela Bassett playing Rosa Parks either. Maybe because Ms. Parks lighter than a paper bag complexion didn't matter in her story in the larger perspective of civil rights, she was still a colored woman. When we are discussing the lives of Black historical figures who were affected by their exact shade of brown or beige, than yeah, the phenotype of the actor does matter. Ex: much of Adam Clayton Powell's legacy was that he was a very light skinned Black man who looked White and even passed for White at one time, I doubt a dark skinned actor would ever be cast to play him. And look at the hilarity that ensues whenever Aretha says she wants Halle to play her–the criticism goes both ways so don't act like it's some juvenile hateration against Zoe, etc. So re: Nina, no, it does not make sense for any Black actress to wear dark brown makeup to portray a dark skinned Black woman who was affected by the color of her skin even among her own people. By this logic, Vanessa Williams (the lightskinned one-lol) could play Nina and there shouldn't be any controversy about that. And the Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf analogy is silly, as you should know White people do not have the same spectrum of skin tones and facial features that we do. Come on now.

L. J. Allen

The real problem with this film is there are genuine factual errors. Nina Simone's daughter "Simone" has gone on record as saying that a man portrayed as one of her mother's love interests in the film was actually Gay and that there was no romantic relationship. On a personal level, I'm not sure if Saldana is right for the role or not. However, I think this whole issue of how Saldana sees herself and defines herself is a moot point if the story is not credible.

willie dynamite

Witnessing all of the vitriol this topic has generated is sad. It personifies the crab in the bucket mentality that plagues African American people. We complain about not having enough of OUR stories made, and when one gets made about Nina Simone, a woman Hollywood would never make a film about, we attack the globally known actress that signed on to portray her. Color is a huge issue for black people but this is not the platform for it. These notions that a "real" African American should have been casted, and Zoe should have turned down the job, defy logic to me. The mere fact that that they are using prosthetics on Zoe should show you that they are not trying to wash over Nina's features. This should be an empowering gesture but instead it is being used to attack Zoe's casting. Many actors have used prosthetics to portray real people in film, this film would probably not have been made without her STAR power but the most glaring problem here is that no one has seen the film! Please stop focusing on how much she looks like Nina and wait to see if she will embody her spirit through her performance. Forest – didn't look like Idi Amin, Denzel didn't look like Malcolm, Idris doesn't look like Nelson Mandela. None of that matters if their performance moves you.


Sorry. Nope. No amount of intellectualism or recalling the words of Dr. King will make this ok.
Let's see how fast Zoe becomes "Latina" again after this movie flops and she's looking for more work.

August Wasoba

She has every right to portray Nina Simone. If the movie sucks, I doubt it will because of what Ms. Saldana looks like, it'll because of her acting, the writing, the directing, the editing, etc. She's an actress, so let her act, until then you can't judge her for a performance that you haven't seen. so let's reserve judgment until then. BTW prosthetics and skin darkening or skin lightening is nothing new in hollywood: Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Denzel as Malcolm X, Frank Langella as Nixon (for a non-black example. Bottom-line, let Ms. Saldana cook and if movie sucks, don't watch it and they can always make another one.


Let me also state, for the record, it seems dangerous to co-sign with this casting. If movies are "packaged" based on garnering an overseas audience, isn't this a slippery slope of giving producers an excuse NOT TO PICK AFRICAN or AFRICAN AMERICAN women for large scale roles? I've heard folks use the phrase "the erasure of black women" often and I never gave credence to it…until now.


How about everyone that's upset about this, spend their money supporting the 'other' Nina Simone movie?

Oh wait, that's right.

Just wondering how many people in the world who've never even heard of Nina Simone, are wondering and searching information on her, because of this film? Hmm.


Let's see…another Nina/Zoe controversy post, TWO posts invoking Tyler Perry (one of which was both a stretch and a repeat), and two other posts explicitly requesting comments in their titles. Is the advertising quarter about to end or something? Should we expect a Django or The Help post soon?




I kinda over this topic, but the bottomline for me is, Zoe Saldana has the right to play whatever role she wants. It's her RIGHT! No matter what you think of it, or feel about it. She can do whatever the hell she wants to do. You also have a right to not see it. But to say that she shouldn't take a role because you don't feel she's the right person for it (regardless of what your reasons are), is just stupid. She's an actress. It's a job. End of story.


I agree with PrinceToddy about this article it's well written but a little contradictory. Part of the that nobody is saying is Zoe Saldana is an exotic beauty with dark skin that kinda sorta looks black but is mixed which makes white culture comfortable with that concept. True she can put on an Afro wig and play the role but really, the role of Nia Simone needs to be played by someone African American. Out of all the people mentioned in this article that can act there brains out and would do a great job an exceptional job at playing Nia Simone it would be hands down Viola Davis. Hollywood wouldn't let an actress like Jennifer Beal play Elizabeth Taylor just because she light skin black women that looks kinda white. Hollywood have always messed over our heros and shero. There is a movie from years 1991 that has Sidney Poitier playing Thurgood Marshall (called Separate But Equal), which if you know what either one of these men look like we know its a stretch! But Hollywood would be doing it for the same reasons today as they did it back then. In my opinion it's because they think people don't really know nor do they care about accurate portrayal and most importantly they think Zoe will put butts in seats because she attractive.

High Priestess

What is this piece even doing on Shadow & Act? This is the most mindless, racially apologetic, uninspired piece of dribble one can imagine. A high school freshman could apply more critical thinking than this.

This isn't just wrong, it's shameful.


BTW – if Viola Davis were cast to play Lena Horne or Josephine Baker…there would most definitely be an uproar. You know why…..better yet that would never happen b/c Viola Davis would never be cast to play either of these great ladies [not that she couldn't do it – but she wouldn't be cast] – So if Zoe can play Nina – than Viola should play Lena.


The Zoe haters and color obsession whores are going to rip you a new one Tanya.


Very well expressed. I understand that some people want an actress who resembles Nina more closely in her physical features. That's understandable but not necessarily binding. I would rather have an actress more accurately reflect Nina's inner journey in a moving, meaningful way than to just nail her physical attributes. Both would be ideal however. That said, I too am anxious and curious to see Zoe's interpretation becasue there aren't a lot of actresses who speak their truth as often and as boldly as Zoe does. Her truth in glimpses is reflected in her body of work. However, how often does she get an opportunity to play such a fierce, historical figure? Probably never. And you thought she should have turned down the chance of a lifetime to play Nina Simone!!? Ha! Of course she didn't turn it down! You don't like her? Don't watch her. You don't agree with her? Don't listen to her. What's undeniable is that she won't be stopped by naysayers and deep down inside, we all respect her for that even if we can't admit it. "They are actors, simply, delivering glimpses of our heroes." Leave the girl alone. Go make your own movie and cast whoever you want to cast. Somebody offered Zoe a J-O-B and as an artist, she took it. You would too if you were brave enough…


I personally don't think you can separate Nina's color/what she looked like from who Nina was and the particular time period. Dark skinned – wide nose and lips – that is part of who Nina was…It is NOT insignificant.
The positive – maybe by the presentation of this particular movie about Nina[with Zoe Saldana] – it will bring about a greater interest to explore who the REAL Nina was – better yet ppl – if you want a good dose of Nina, google her name – there is a wonderful website dedicated to her cherished memory


Someone is reaching here. Someone is trying to see the good and see the equality and is therefore willingly blind to what is in front of her face. Not just the author of this piece, but Zoe as well.

Bringing up other folk who have played other characters in other roles while wearing makeup and prosthetics misses the point. Nina's "blackness" and her features defined her and wrote her story. To ignore that is naive and the author needs to rethink how much "Nina" really means to her if she's willing to shrug this off as some kind of insignificance.

As another commenter stated, had they not needed to "darken" Zoe up, had they not needed to widen Zoe's nose, had they not needed to give Zoe a party city afro wig, then it would all be different. However, they DID. And while it might hold water for OTHER roles of OTHER people that these things don't matter when making a film about someone, the same does NOT hold true for Nina Simone. Again, the author of this would be better off remembering who the hell Nina was.

It's funny that the author ends the story with a nod in the direction of Nina's daughter. And you know what, that last part says it all. No, she didn't only have problems with the script. Read the interviews – she had a problem with the fact that Zoe does not resemble her mother. She said that outright and listed people who would be more appropriate. She ALSO stated that she's not comfortable playing her own mother for the very SAME reasons as she's not comfortable with Zoe playing her.

This peace has all the markings of being politically correct for the sake of being politically correct. For the sake of being civil. You know what? No. Forget a bunch of that. Zoe Saldana was the WRONG choice for this film and the fact she is in blackface to make it is point enough. If the author of this piece wants to join hands with Zoe and pretend like race is a social construct and shouldn't/doesn't exist then by all means, go head. But don't sit there and call Nina one of your SHEROS and then kick dirt in the woman's face.



ugh! you miss the point. it's about who Nina Simone is, what her aesthetic meant to her and in the music industry and world at that time, and the barriers she faced and overcame. she was unapologetically a dark skin Black woman. casting Zoe is in a sense apologizing for Nina's dark skin Blackness, conforming to be palpable to audiences. THAT is unacceptable.


No…just no.


Normally, I agree with you Tanya but on this…HELL NO.


I watched the President's speech and I thought it was great. And he talked about racism. Read Jonathan Capeheart's piece in the Washington Post. As far as Zoe goes, if she needs to be put in blackface to play the part, she shouldn't be doing it. Denzel's hair was dyed to play Malcolm X, but he didn't have powder all over his face. And Zoe said more than there are no people of color. She said that race is a minute problem compared to gender. I think many people would disagree with that statement.


The Cleopatra the Liz Taylor played was not black, she was of the Ptolemy Greeks.
With that said there are CLEARLY many actresses out there who are phenotypically correct and could play Nina.
Why did Zoe Saldana have to "Black Up" in order to play Simone if being a black woman is the only criterion for the role?
Well written article but way too contradictory.

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