When I go to the D.R., the press in Santo Domingo always asks, “¿Qué te consideras, 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 are ‘dark skinned’”) I’m like, “No! Let’s get it straight, yo soy una mujer negra.” (“I am a black woman.”)
Zoe Saldana talking about her racial identification, back in 2006.
Since news first broke of Zoe’s casting in the lead role in an upcoming Nina Simone biopic, and then pictures emerged showing the use of makeup, a nose prosthetic and wigs to make her appear more like the dark-skinned, broad featured and Afro-wearing Simone, people have been dismayed, as it’s clear that Zoe’s bankability trumped reality in this casting, and she bears no real resemblance to the legendary musician.
But this is actually not unusual for a biopic or film featuring actual people. One need only look at the diverse array of actors who’ve portrayed Nelson Mandela on film to know that resemblance is not always the first consideration in casting biopics. In fact, it’s more notable when an actor does strongly resemble the person they’re portraying (e.g. Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady or Denzel Washington in ) than when they present a illusory facsimile via hairdo, clothes, mannerisms or accent (e.g. Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark or Denzel Washington in Hurricane).
But in the latest round of criticism, there has been a great deal of emphasis on Zoe as an Afro-Latina, as if the Latina negates Afro in that construction, or simply outright erasing her blackness. In reaction to the latest photo release, a hashtag started on Twitter “#blackbiopics” which likens Zoe in this role to white actors portraying legendary Black people, equating Zoe as a black woman in slightly darker makeup to a white actor in blackface.
This is exceptionally problematic. There is no question that lighter skin and features that more closely adhere to European-based standards of beauty are preferential to Black and non-Black people alike. There is also no question that there are quite a few actresses, some quite well known and acclaimed, who more closely resemble Nina Simone in skin tone, in features and body type. Zoe’s casting is a problem (though the entire film is problematic, it takes massive liberties with Simone’s life) but she is a Black woman. Saying that Zoe as Simone is in any way equivalent to Melissa McCarthy portraying Queen Latifah or Ryan Gosling as Malcolm X is a crass form of erasure.
There are so many representation issues in this film, we can take this film apart fifteen different ways. Going for the “critique” form that stands on the neck of a Black woman (while leaving Cynthia Mort, the white woman behind the film who has made a joke of Simone’s life untouched) and denies her even the basic facts of her identity is just not on.
FINALLY, someone calls this what it actually is. Her casting is problematic and I take the most issue with the fact that Nina’s family didn’t want this and she said yes anyway. And what is also problematic is that THAT’S not the big issue here, that people in our own community have turned it into something that now involves, to quote, “a crass form of erasure.” The very erasure that is, clearly not suitable for public consumption of Nina (nor should it be), but is wholeheartedly endorsed by countless people who have wrongly assumed that it is their place to not only qualify Zoe’s blackness but deny it, outright. What an intense contradiction.
and when the fuck did Zoe ever say that she’s not black?
How is that people keep saying that but google doesn’t give me a single quote with her saying that, but it gives me plenty of quotes with her stating that she’s black and even talking about the racism she had to face in hollywood?
Yes! Thank you! Adding this since there’s (shock & awe) a video with her saying “I’m latin AND black.”http://www.bet.com/video/106andpark/106guestrewind/zoe-saldana-106-and-park-3326.html
I’ve followed her career and I’m a fan, I’ve read interviews where she hasn’t exactly worded things in the best way. But I get her. I get her viewpoint. And I am so tired of seeing people sharing quotes out of context because now it’s blown up into people saying “She doesn’t even want to call herself black.” And that’s just, frankly, a crock of horseshit. So here, have some quotes, and a video to prove otherwise, and sit down.
Here’s the thing: I was initially side-eyeing Zoe when she took the role. But then I saw people putting her down, calling her make-up blackface (thus claiming she isn’t even black in the first place) and decided I couldn’t be that person, or be part of that side of the conversation. Because to me, when you do that, you only hurt your own argument. And that leaves us nowhere. I am truly disgusted to see people in the same community tearing her down. Seeing the whole “She’s not black, she’s Dominican.” No, dumb dumb, she is both. And I have NEVER, in YEARS of reading her interviews, and watching her interviews, seen ANYTHING even remotely close to denying the fact that she is a black woman.
It’s pretty ridiculous seeing people post quotes, out of context and say, “daily reminder that Zoe Saldana said this.” Honestly? One of the FEW black women in films who is, very literally, banking billions of dollars at the box office for huge franchises on a consistent basis? Not to mention, in genres that have been predominantly white (sci-fi, comic book, etc). Zoe never said people of color don’t exist, and if you read the full interview or watch the video where she elaborates on that, you’d know she was referring to her hope (which is idealistic but well intended) is that she won’t have to consistently identify her race, ethnicity, and the like in every interview she has. That we can be identified as people, as humans, as opposed to our ethnic makeup because it’s a tired line of questioning. Personally, I champion any person who shuns labels. Putting a quote here because someone else said it better than I could: “America is one of the most racially obsessed nations on earth. And you’re questioning her view of race based on your view of race…not from a worldly perspective. Because if the writer of this article actually read a book, she’d know that countries all over the world, from Brazil amongst others define race differently..if at all. We define race biologically while nations like Brazil define by phenotype. Saldana’s point of view is actually very intelligent…”
And the whole President quote I also think was taken out of context. From what I read of that full interview, she was referring to the idea that she will not complain because she would rather spend that time working. If a black man can work his ass off and make to the Presidency, no doubt facing racism along the way (and still is now because ‘Merica) then who the fuck is she to complain about racism in a town as fabricated and full of bullshit as Hollywood? If he can be President, then she can be a working actress, overcome those things, and continue to do her job. I don’t know, that’s just the way I see it.
I get people sharing their views, I think we shouldn’t shy away from these conversations. It is always healthy to disagree and discuss those disagreements. However, we should all find it incredibly problematic when, in raising concerns about celebrating one black woman we have to tear down another. This is why we can’t have nice things.