Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Nina Simone Biopic
Hollywood has never been supportive or fair to the Black community. We can go back to the early days of cinema and see most often our images, like His-Story, distorts our true reality. The black person was always the “buffoon” or the help, and this is being kind.
When it comes to our history, Black people's contributions have been distorted to reflect the white cultures view of it. Examples are abound; the Ten Commandments, Hannibal, or the most serious distorted depiction was Cleopatra, all played by white people, when, in fact, each was of African Descent.
Recently, the Nina Simone biopic debuted at Cannes. I was waiting for reviews to come out before writing anything about it. I look for a review, but I couldn't find a thing. From what I was able to find was a comment that it was only screened for distribution companies interested in buying the film; this is a telling tale. In other words, it was screened for the other culture.
The long and short of this post is I can remember Nina Simone and have a bit of a problem with the actress chosen to play her in the movie. I think there are a number of very talented black women, who may have been a better choice. Just to name a few, Viola Davis, Kimberly Elise, India Arie (who I think would be my first choice) or Mary J Blige would be more fitting to play the High Priestess of Soul. Since popular votes don't guarantee selection, the outcome is already a finished product starring Zoe Saldana. I am certainly not saying Saldana is not a very good actress but in my view she does not fit the character as well as others. I am saying, in my view, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Now, with that said, I like Zoe as an actress!
Before I can recall listening to Nina Simone's music, I remember seeing her face. I had a childish fixation because she looked like the black women I knew and one could extend the inference of esteem extended to me. The most pronounced hereditary feature is the Nina. I wonder what Zoe felt inside every time she sat down and watched the make-up artist apply a prosthetic nose and darken her skin. Please take a moment to think about that process. When Zoe as Nina looks in the mirror, she is promoting mythology. Say what you want about The Great Sphinx's missing nose, but the full lips still remain after all these centuries. A black person’s nose always gets in the way of European theory.
When I look at Nina Simone, I see a messenger with a wide nose and full lips. When I look at Zoe as Nina, I see someone in a cloak walking a windy road to an awkward redemption. I share no empathize with her being a puppet. This brings us to the supreme capitalists who hide behind corporate curtains and only their show face at legal depositions. Some would say they robbed Nina's grave, re-branded the artifacts with plans to sell and will settle all lawsuits after they count their money.
If you know or love Nina's music, if you dishonor her integrity means you hear her sound but not the woman of valor. What it means is that those people want soul to be packaged in coffee bean blonde even though she told you black is the color. It means you don't think Nina's beautiful and only God knows what they think of the rest of us. This is my distain with regard to the casting. I have not seen this movie, but image is everything, and so far I feel disrespected.
Nina was not here to entertain us with dance and radio formatted songs. Her lyrics, her staging, her expressions, her espresso complexion adding another tone to the ebony and ivory, her ornaments, her natural follicles underneath the crowns adorned and the cigarette smoke she blew out her oval lips and ancient nostrils were all elements of her protest artistry.
The bottom line is that Hollywood, as it always has, is driven by dollars and exploitation. I am sure Spike Lee faced a fair share of studio battles. I would venture to say that some studio executive approach him about having some white man play Malcolm X to test his integrity.
Nina Simone is dead but not gone the mind of those who knew and love her. In the ongoing war of legacy versus exploitation, one spends a sacrificial lifetime to create a self-portrait with uncompromising colors only to have others betray your portrait with an unreal replica. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…