We were making progress.
Chris Rock roasted Hollywood for its white exclusivity at the Oscars. The Twitterverse created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag which led to some noticeable change to the Academy’s membership rules. Everyone everywhere seems to be discussing diversity in the movies. There seemed to be a very productive conversation happening about race in America and how that was being reflected back to us on the big screen.
But then this happened…
Really Hollywood? There's a lot wrong with this trailer but let's start with the very obvious. Zoe Saldana is wearing blackface, and it's super apparent. Like, it's so apparent that I wouldn't be able to concentrate during the entire film. Saldana is a beautiful woman of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage with some semblance of Hatian and Lebanese roots. Needless to say, she's not black, and her natural skin tone is several shades lighter than the real Nina Simone. I get that Hollywood is a place where powerful transformations take place. Makeup magic and dialect coaching can elevate an actor's portrayal of a character to new heights. But this-this isn't one of those cases.
This is a diverse casting in the sense that a Latina actress was cast to play a lead role in a major motion picture. But the executives behind this film seriously couldn't find a black actress to play this role? There are so many other actresses out there who could have devoured this role and taken this to Oscar territory. Think Viola Davis. Think Angela Bassett (who's wowed us in this type of territory before). Even Taraji P. Henson. It just doesn't make sense that, in an instance where a biopic is being made about a historic black figure, a black actor wasn't cast. Call me crazy, but it seems like that would've been a requirement.
To see Zoe Saldana in her prosthetic nose and ridiculously darkened skin enrages me. It's as though Hollywood is mocking diversity now just days after having the most open discussion the industry has ever had about the topic. And if you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, just take a look at this meme:
I had a hearty laugh after seeing this, but seeing these two makeup jobs side by side really brings to light how bad this really is. What could have been a award-worthy biopic opportunity has been squandered here. Imagine if Nicole Kidman would have been cast to play Selena? Or if Madonna had actually been cast to play Frida Kahlo instead of Salma Hayek? Those results would have been disastrous and just as controversial for obvious reasons. Why go to such great lengths to cast a role when there are plenty of actresses out there of the same race that can deliver the role? This is just as bad as Emma Stone being cast as an Asian character in Aloha.
Nina Simone's family is understandably upset and used Twitter to take shots at Saldana after she promoted the recently released trailer. And Nina Simone's fans are using social media to organize a Nina Simone tribute day on the movie's release date as a protest against the film.
All in all, this movie's casting and makeup just seem really insensitive to the times. It's counterproductive to the national discussion about race. It's damaging to Hollywood's barely there efforts toward inclusion. It's a completely unnecessary drama that could've been avoided. SMH.