Modern Day Blackface In Hollywood: Why The Nina Simone Movie Should Be Boycotted

The movie Nina is a biofilm written by director Cynthia Mort; telling the story of the late African-American musician, and civil rights activist Nina Simone. The woman famous the song "Feeling Good"; a song remade by multiple artists like Julie London, Muse, Lauryn Hill, and Jennifer Hudson. The song was also sampled by rap artists Jay-Z and Kanye West, titled "New Day". 

Nina, a film starring actress Zoe Saldana is scheduled for release this April 22 but has garnered much controversy since it first announced its casting in 2012. The trailer released March 2, depicted a lighter complexioned Zoe Saldana; heavily saturated in dark brown makeup-wearing, a prosthetic nose, and afro wig; all to give her the strong African racial features musician Nina Simone was proud of.

Zoe Saldana In Blackface As Nina Simone

The problem is that many family members, friends, and fans, as well as the holders of Nina Simone's estate, feel as though actress Zoe Saldana looks the complete opposite of musician Nina Simone and neither did she struggle with the acceptance of strong racial characteristics of many black women. There also seems to be a problem with her not being African-American, while there are plenty of African-American women who could have cast as Nina Simone.

Nina Simone was a black woman of darker complexion with strong African facial features and coarse hair. She openly expressed her racial pride. In a New York times interview Simone Kelly, the daughter of Nina Simone said, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark...”. From the looks of things those days still exist. Earlier this month The Simone estate expressed its disdain on twitter saying, “Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing.”, encouraging friends and fans to boycott the film.

Nina Simone

During slavery and very much afterward there were clear distinctions made between blacks and so-called mulatto's or colored's; today the terms bi- or multiracial are more appropriately used. There were also many stereotypes associated with these classifications of blacks, as a race and ethnicity; and those same stereotypes made their way into the entertainment industries which helped shape a world view of black culture.

In the early 19th Century, Black entertainers were not even allowed on stage unless they performed in blackface; limited to roles making a mockery of slaves who worked the plantations or as house servants. William Henry Lane, the man who invented tap dancing, was among the first Black performers to dawn blackface. On Broadway, Bert Williams and George Walker were two famous Blacks with a comedy show called "Two Real Coons". Later, during the time of the Civil Rights Movements of the '50s, the NAACP's vigorous protests ended with the removal of some blackface acts from TV series. Throughout the evolution of film industry, the mulatto or multiracial woman with more European features has historically landed the more serious roles of the provocative sexually desired female protagonist and "tragic mulatto", while the dark-skinned black women with strong African features who resemble Nina Simone, typically play the mammy stereotype. These women were even discriminated against in the music industry.

Bert Williams and George Walker

Zoe Saldana does identify with her African ancestry, in a Latina Magazine interview in May 2006 she states, "When I go to the D.R., the press in Santo Domingo always asks, "¿Qué te considers, Dominicana o Americana?" (What do you consider yourself, Dominican or American?) I don't understand it, and it's the same people asking the same question. So I say, time and time again, "Yo soy una mujer negra." ("I am a black woman.") [They go,] "Oh, no, tú eres trigueñita." ("Oh no, you're just tanned'") I'm like, "No! Let's get it straight, yo soy una mujer negra." ("I am a black woman.")". 

In another interview with Allure, she states, “It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it, I will honor and respect my black community because that’s who I am.”. 

Being of Dominican and Puerto Rican ethnicity, her appearance is a mixture of the Natives, the Europeans, and the African slaves they brought to that part of America. Though many Dominican's and Puerto Rican's are multiracial in appearance, many also have a strong racial resemblance to a particular racial group due to some groups not intermixing as much as others, especially those of African descent. Those individuals face the same social and economic inequalities as African-Americans. Simply put, there are black women in both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico that look like Nina Simone; as well as there are African-American women who look more like Zoe Saldana, due to racial intermixing. With that said, there are plenty of African-American women here in the United States, that resemble Nina Simone's racial appearance without darkening their skin or wearing a fake nose.

So, the argument here is not one merely of light-skinned versus dark-skinned; but one that distinguishes the word race from the term ethnicity. Under the definition of ethnicity, a multiracial person can choose what nationality, culture or even race they want to identify with, but under the definition of race one doesn't have the privilege of choice. In a sense, Black has become a culture that many other racial groups have integrated into their own cultures.  

The problem here is not whether Zoe Saldana is black enough to play Nina Simone, but since she ethnically identifies with the black community there's a question of her integrity and ethnic pride as a "mujer negra" (a black woman). She claimed she will "honor and respect" her black community, well how is that possible then if she plays a role in blackface undermining the very stereotypes that the NAACP and Nina Simone fought to get rid of during the Civil Rights Era. Blacks supporting this film is a slap in the face to all the great Civil Rights leaders and allows Hollywood to keep Blacks starring as lead Coon in their movies and shows. The sad part is the Blacks who are willing to play these roles. Pride shouldn't have a price tag.

Is Zoe Saldana Black enough to play Nina? Ethnically, maybe so, but as far as racial appearance go's...No! Let's cast Halle Berry for the Hillary Clinton story. In whiteface. There shouldn't be a problem there, because she's half white.