Wild is the blackface
(Three thoughts after watching the trailer of Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone.)
1. Seeing Zoe Saldana all blackfaced up to play Nina Simone is something even living in the Netherlands didn’t prepare me for. In the home of Black Pete and carnival floats with titles like “N*gger boat” carrying blackfaced white folks and some of their most offensive songs across the Southern towns, plenty of us critical, gifted and Black inhabitants of the Lowlands might think that when it comes to racist face paint, we’ve seen it all. Every now and then it enters a space we thought wouldn’t. Like that weekend when it took a stream of Tweets to convince the internationally known North Sea Jazz festival that hell yes it’s offensive to beam images of Al Jolson performing his other racist routines as part of your “celebrating jazz!”-clip. If anything, the Netherlands makes it a daily practice to affirm that Mainstream Western, Eurocentric Whiteness and those who long to be validated by it, will never not sink their teeth into an opportunity to spit in our contemporary and ancestral faces. The Blacker our berry, the more venomous their fangs. But Saldana’s bite, while her jaw is being massaged by the hand that starves us, is one that, if you’d let it, would suck the salt from our cultural sweat.
2. I don’t care about Saldana’s acting skills because it’s not about craft, it’s about colorism and misrepresentation. It’s about whitewashing for consumption while blackfacing for “correction”. It’s about telling dark skinned actresses with facial features like Miss Simone that they’re not even worthy of portraying their own reflection and yes, it is also very much about having a woman who “doesn’t like to talk about race” portray the Icon who gave us To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Pirate Jenny and Four Women.
In the cinematic tradition of centring biopics of game changing, dark skinned artists around abusive rage or other destructive behaviour, a light skinned woman with completely different facial features than Nina Simone plus one who argues that white people are really pink because white is the color of paper and is tired of talking about race and/or ethnicity, jumped out of all the seats she should be having and yelled: “Yes. Yes, this will be my contribution to our understandings of the High Priestess!”
3. After we’re done boycotting this movie straight to the discount DVD box, can we start investing some of our moneys in a biopic starring Tamar-kali or Adepero Oduye as Nina Simone? Can it be directed by Dee Rees? Can Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Betty Shabazz, al-Hajj Malik al-Shabazz, James Baldwin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte be portrayed by actors who’re all fairly unknown to most of our audiences because we understand the importance of creating space for each other?