Bleaching Nina Simone

More
adepero.jpeg
Adepero Oduye

There is some degree of uproar over the casting of Zoe Saldana to play Nina Simone in an upcoming semi-biopic. The general sense is that the industry is much more comfortable casting actresses who look like Saldana to play Simone, as opposed to an actress who actually looked like Simone:

"My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark," Ms. Kelly [Simone's daughter] said in an interview. "Appearance-wise this is not the best choice," she added, referring to Ms. Saldana.

I generally like to give creators a wide berth on this sort of thing. But this casting (with no shot taken at Saldana) manages to both erase the specific kind of racism Simone contended with and at the same time empower it. The fact is that if you were making records in Simone's era (and even now) meeting conventional white beauty standards was a barrier. Casting Simone in high yaller not only erases that history but it effectively perpetuates it. And perhaps most importantly, it actually shrinks Simone's story.

I think Shadow and Act has it right in pitching Adepero Oduye. But I suspect that what's happening here is that they want a "name" to play Simone. In that sense, what we're seeing here is something more systemic. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to a Seaside Town in Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In