In case anyone is still confused about why casting Zoe Saldana to play Nina Simone in the upcoming biopic "Nina" is problematic, India.Arie is here to break it down.
The songstress, who acted as Simone in a 2003 musical performance, told The Hollywood Reporter during an interview about the film that she wasn't pleased with the way Simone was portrayed after seeing an early version of the film in 2013. She noted that the way filmmakers made Simone look in the film betrayed the late singer's true beauty. But Arie said the claim Saldana isn't "black enough" for the role is a "messy" way to frame a bigger issue.
"I think the best way to say it is that they casted her against type and went too far to make her fit," Arie said about the black and Hispanic actress. Arie first addressed the controversy in a letter to Simone's fan site in 2012 after images of Saldana in a darker face and fake nose surfaced.
"In my open letter I called it 'black(er) face,'" she told THR. "I didn’t know what to call it either. I have heard that there were black actors who played blackface, back when people did that. I think blackface was putting charcoal on your face and doing a certain type of act on stage, the shucking and jiving. You could be black or white. [The Nina portrayal] is a caricature. You had to put a whole other face on someone’s face."
Arie said she doesn't think Saldana "did anything wrong," explaining she would've accepted the role if she was in Saldana's shoes. Saldana even said that she didn't think she was "right for the part" in a 2015 interview. Still, Arie said casting of the late singer was a lost opportunity.
"When you think about the way that we as human beings can inspire each other by being able to be our authentic selves, to deny someone who looks like Nina Simone the opportunity to play her is sad," Arie said. "It would have been important and impactful had they made a movie about Nina Simone where the actress really looked like her. It would have changed someone’s life, I think."
When you think about the way that we as human beings can inspire each other by being able to be our authentic selves, to deny someone who looks like Nina Simone the opportunity to play her is sad. India.Arie on the "Nina" biopic
Arie pointed out that a huge part of Simone's identity was how bold she was about her blackness at a time of great oppression.
"When you look a certain way you get certain privileges; when you look another way you’re denied access to certain things, especially in her era," Arie said. "So in the context of the politics of race in America and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf. To propagate that institutionalized racism that is historical in Hollywood in a movie about her is ironic in the worst possible way."
"Nina" is just another example of what happens when white filmmakers tell black stories.