Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone? Why not? Mary J Blige was slated for the role but for unknown reasons, is no longer a part of this production. The noise in the blogosphere around this controversy is akin to a hive of agitated hornets. I will admit that I was flabbergasted too but then remembered how well Diana Ross portrayed Billie Holiday despite the initial reaction she faced. Still, this is not about Saldana’s talent as a singer or actress. The casting itself raises questions about beauty and sexuality. As the details about this film project have emerged, I can see why she was chosen over so many actors such as Pariah’s Adepero Oduye who is closer to the late Simone’s phenotype.
From what I have been able to gather from various search engines on this project, the unauthorized biography does not focus on the child prodigy Simone. It also does not focus on the real woman who was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties nor even the real woman whose compositions, “Four Women” and Mississippi Goddam!” were her signature songs because of their resonance with the Black experience. Instead, the film is based on a fictionalized romantic relationship between the late musician and her assistant Clifton Henderson from the autobiography “I Put a Spell On You.”
Had the film project focused on a Civil Rights activist, a composer, and a child prodigy, then an actress such as Adepero Oduye may have been chosen for this part. Since Simone is being sexualized in this film, Saldana will be the object of affection because African American women who look like Simone do not play love interest in most forms of visual media whether it is mainstream films, television, or the videos of rap stars. Simone was the epitome of “Black is Beautiful” for a short period of time but currently very few believe it and this includes and is especially true of African Americans.
Some will say that this is due to mainstream media’s focus on African American women whose looks are more biracial. Olympic competitor Lolo Jones who did not place in track during the 2012 Olympics in London leads every American track athlete in magazine covers despite athletes such as