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September 13, 2012 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Recently, it was announced that Zoe Saldana has been cast to play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. Objections to this casting decision include references to Simone's own embrace of her own dark-skinned appearance and have brought up colorism, which has been noted in other recent films, such as Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, where Harriet Tubman was depicted by Jacqueline Fleming, a biracial actress. Colorism is more than the warped preferences of the Hollywood star system, but an issue that affects the daily lives of black American women. Highlighting the effects of colorism is a short documentary film made by a teenage girl in 2007, "A Girl Like Me," which features different girls' takes on, among other social issues relating to black women, the role of skin tone in beauty standards. Simone herself touched on this issue in her song, "Four Women."

While casting actors with lighter skin tones in roles based on real women with darker complexions can be problematic, it represents a progress of sorts from having white women play roles based on real-life women of African descent, such as Angelina Jolie's depiction of Mariane Pearl, an Afro-Cuban/Chinese/French writer.

In addition to issues of the physical depiction of Ms. Simone, the biopic also includes a "composite character" love interest, who is based largely on Simone's manager Clifton Henderson, a gay man. For what it's worth, Simone's daughter states that she preferred Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise in the role, while Simone herself wanted to be portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg.
posted by palindromic (125 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's ok to not make a movie about Nina Simone. Her music is a testament to the woman and conveyed in her own words and style. It's hard to imagine anyone adding much more unless Simone herself was closely involved in the production.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:45 PM on September 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't know many actresses, but upon seeing this picture of Simone, my first thought was "She looks like Whoopi Goldberg".

So, given that Simone wanted to be played by Goldberg, and Goldberg looks like her - why not cast Goldberg? Unless Goldberg just isn't acting anymore, or isn't convincing as a young Simone.
posted by jb at 4:47 PM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh man, would love to see Whoopi in this. Let's kickstart a response film!
posted by scrowdid at 4:48 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm on Team Kimberly Elise, although no one LOOKS like Nina Simone, so that's not really the point.

Even with that opinion, the Saldana option is an embarrassment.
posted by hermitosis at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


While casting actors with lighter skin tones in roles based on real women with darker complexions can be problematic, it represents a progress of sorts from having white women play roles based on real-life women of African descent, such as Angelina Jolie's depiction of Mariane Pearl, an Afro-Cuban/Chinese/French writer.

How did you decide that this is "progress"? When the subject of a movie comes from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (as so many people do), how ethnically similar does the actor have to be to the subject? How many "Afro-Cuban/Chinese/French" actresses were even possible choices to play that role, if any? If only one such actress had been available, should she have automatically gotten the part as long as she didn't bomb the audition? I don't think so.

Actors are usually different in many ways from the people they're depicting. This is unremarkable. It's the norm. In fact, it's a large part of what acting is about.

An actor's performance will be judged based on how moving and convincing it is. That does include looking the part — the audience shouldn't be rolling its eyes. But there are no objective, fixed rules about how much of an actual resemblance there has to be.

Considering how arbitrary and imprecise the whole concept of race is (e.g. Americans are very inclined toward categorizing people as "black" rather than "white," while the term "white" has expanded to include a lot of people who used to be considered nonwhite), I don't know how you could sensibly create and enforce a whole set of rules based on race.
posted by John Cohen at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Whoopi is pushing 70 -- probably too old for a biopic.
posted by Malor at 5:01 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I might have gone for Anika Noni Rose, especially if they were looking for someone who can sing.

I think Saldana's lovely and a good actress but a classic Hollywood casting misstep here.
posted by padraigin at 5:03 PM on September 13, 2012


But there are no objective, fixed rules about how much of an actual resemblance there has to be.

Yeah, left to its own devices, Hollywood will be completely inclusive and diverse in its casting! And won't naturally, entropically skew toward white people playing everyone. We've come so far!

Except, did we not just see Hugo Weaving wearing epicanthic folds in the "Cloud Atlas" trailer?
posted by hermitosis at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Oh for fucks sake. Find the best damn actress for the part and then put her in makeup. Add cgi if needed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:09 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes. Blackface will solve all our problems.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:12 PM on September 13, 2012 [34 favorites]


Is it just me or do we have this same conversation over and over around here when it comes to people who have been historically oppressed continue to have these things happen and someone comes along and says "We're post-racism now! It doesn't matter!" or "We're post-sexism now! That makes it ok!"

Hollywood has such a long history of not casting people of color, only casting people of color with "white" features, and only casting people of color when absolutely required for the story. It's not an action that means nothing.

If someone accidentally steps on your foot, you might say "That's ok, it was an accident." If someone's been stepping on your foot continually for 100+ years you don't want to write it off anymore. Then someone comes along and sees them stepping on your foot and they say "Oh it's no big deal." But they're not aware of the history. Or don't want to be aware.
posted by bleep at 5:13 PM on September 13, 2012 [26 favorites]


How did you decide that this is "progress"? When the subject of a movie comes from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (as so many people do), how ethnically similar does the actor have to be to the subject? How many "Afro-Cuban/Chinese/French" actresses were even possible choices to play that role, if any? If only one such actress had been available, should she have automatically gotten the part as long as she didn't bomb the audition? I don't think so.

I sometimes feel that people go too far - I think it's crazy to complain about a Japanese actor playing a Chinese character, or vice versa.

But truth is, no biracial woman would be cast to play me in the biopic of my life (kickstarter coming soon). No - they'd be looking for someone pasty like me. No matter how good the actress was, no one would cast a brown-skinned woman to play me (or someone who looked like me) -- and I don't think it's unreasonable to point out the double standard.

When dark-skinned actresses start getting cast as Queen Elizabeth (I or II), or Joan of Arc, or Eleanor Rosevelt, or <insert Euro/Euro-American icon here>, then I think we can talk skin-colour being silly. But right now, it's still a huge issue.
posted by jb at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2012 [46 favorites]


To me this is a very difficult issue to parse. On the one hand, if anyone deserves to be portrayed by someone of the same complexion, surely Nina Simone qualifies. Her music is racially self-aware.

On the other hand, this isn't the Hollywood system of old, where people are locked out. I mean, both the writer/director and the executive producer of this project are white. So what? Let them make their fucking movie. Let them use robots if they don't want to pay actors SAG minimum. Hell, Alexander got made, and a lot of people argue to this day about whether or not he was gay. And period movies with composite characters get made all the time. No need for the derogatory scare quotes.

I mean if you really feel like this movie shouldn't be cast this way, then come out and defend that position. Or, make your own movie.

I don't understand the obligation to canonize the very differences we seek to overcome as a society. What about Black Orpheus, a top-shelf Brazilian adaptation of a Greek legend? Or, should Mercutio be black, as he was in Romeo + Juliet? I dunno, maybe those are dense comparisons. It just seems that as long as the change goes one way, it's beautiful artistic license; the other way it has to be oppressive and we have to create a new word that ends in -ism.

Anyway, my vote goes for Adeporo Oduye.
posted by phaedon at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's easier to age a young actor than to make an older actor look young, so at this point Goldberg would be challenging to cast. If she's even still acting. Also, she doesn't sing.

Jill Scott would be great at both the singing and the acting, but she looks nothing like Nina Simone---not that Saldana does, either, but clearly the world will end if anyone casts a fat woman actor as a slim woman...
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2012


Whoopi is pushing 70 -- probably too old for a biopic.

Since I found this notion abjectly terrifying, I rushed off to confirm that it's incorrect -- she's 56.
posted by eugenen at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2012 [51 favorites]


If Whoopi Goldberg doesn't sing, who dubbed her parts in Sister Act?

I am also EXTREMELY happy to hear that she's only 56, as the world needs more Whoopi Goldberg as long as we can have her. And not just because she's my favoritist Star Trek actor evar.
posted by jb at 5:18 PM on September 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Here's the thing:

Yes, racism in Hollywood is an awful historical reality, and it still exists. But a movie is a $50-100M investment for the studio and production companies. It's not getting made at all without a star- it just isn't. If there's no bankable* star of the proper ethnicity, the choice is either make the movie with someone else or don't make it.

To me, something like this is infinitely preferable to the "suddenly important White guy best friend who actually did everything" syndrome - like the movie "Windtalkers" which cast actual Native Americans, but then realized then needed a star and shoehorned in Nic Cage.

*And yes, movies with big stars bomb all the time. But the industry is still built on marketing stars.

posted by drjimmy11 at 5:22 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goldberg's songs in the Sister Act movies were dubbed.

I wish she would go back to doing monologues, because she was incredible at that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:23 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's also the side issue of what honors the person most:

a) A performance by someone who looks the part but does a poor job
or
b) a performance by someone who looks slightly "off" but does a great job.

I think most people would say b), but then music biopics are often a vehicle for impersonations and "greatest-hits-cramming" passed off as acting and storytelling, respectively.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:26 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, given that Simone wanted to be played by Goldberg, and Goldberg looks like her - why not cast Goldberg? Unless Goldberg just isn't acting anymore, or isn't convincing as a young Simone.

Whoopi Goldberg is not going to be convincing as a young anybody. She is certainly not going to be convincing as a young Simone.

Assuming the film is intended to cover at least Simone's professional music career starting in 1954, we're talking about a character who is 21 years old. Whoopi Goldberg couldn't play a 21-year-old Whoopi Goldberg.

But, given that Nina Simone died at age 70, Whoopi could play Simone closer to that age, I guess.
posted by The World Famous at 5:31 PM on September 13, 2012


Nina is not just a singer, she is a black icon. Her prime directive especially in her later career was the black experience in the U.S. She was a paragon of such issues and made them forcefully a large part of her public persona. So the color and association of the actor who plays her is not a trivial matter. This casting is an insult to her memory.
posted by shnarg at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2012 [18 favorites]


This just boggles my mind.

Given that Ms. Saldana probably already gets turned down for roles because she is too dark-skinned (not white) how could it possibly be fair to also deny her roles because she is "not-black enough"?
posted by sparklemotion at 5:36 PM on September 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Goldberg's songs in the Sister Act movies were dubbed.

Do you have a cite for that? She actually sang when she appeared in the stage play, near as I can tell, and I can't find any reference to a voice actor.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:37 PM on September 13, 2012


Given that Ms. Saldana probably already gets turned down for roles because she is too dark-skinned (not white) how could it possibly be fair to also deny her roles because she is "not-black enough"?

The better thing would be to not turn her down for roles for not being white. And for the public to accept that, and for movie industry people to believe that the public will accept that. If we started doing that long ago, this might be less of an issue.
posted by bleep at 5:41 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Juliet Banana: "Yes. Blackface will solve all our problems"

Is it still blackface if it's a lighter-skinned black person being made darker-skinned? Not a rhetorical question, I'm actually curious. It seems to me a lot of the factors that make blackface (hugely) problematic are not really present in this case, but I may well be mistaken.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:42 PM on September 13, 2012


Like some others here, I think my only question is "can Zoe Saldana sing?".

Because the ghost of Nina Simone is likely to be a bit temperamental.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:42 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem here is that Nina Simone is god, and no mortal is going to come close.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:43 PM on September 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Meh. At least she's Black. What are they going to do, tell all the not-Black-enough actresses to fuck off? Would that be progress?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:46 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


The better thing would be to not turn her down for roles for not being white.

But we aren't talking about those other roles here. We're talking about this movie, right now.

This whole debate is as maddening about talk of Obama not getting the black vote because he wasn't black enough (you know, the white mom, the Harvard education).
posted by sparklemotion at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2012


Also, Jamie Foxx is somewhat lighter-skinned than Ray Charles, but I don't recall there being much of a controversy over this at the time. Is this a question of degree, an issue specifically relating to Nina Simone's own position on the matter, or a double-standard with gendered elements involved?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:47 PM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


By the way, if they wanted an actress/singer, they could ask her daughter to do it, although she's also fairly light-skinned. At least she looks quite a lot like her mother (and sounds kind of like her, too).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:49 PM on September 13, 2012


Is it still blackface if it's a lighter-skinned black person being made darker-skinned? Not a rhetorical question, I'm actually curious.

See Forrest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland."
posted by Sys Rq at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2012


Whoopi is pushing 70 -- probably too old for a biopic.

Oprah out acted by a mile anyway.
posted by Artw at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2012


Since the music is recorded separately from the video in a movie like this, why does it matter at all who records the vocal track? It's lip synching regardless of whether it's the actress's own voice or not. Doing your own voice is just a stunt unless we're actually seeing you sing, like Madonna in the death scene in "Evita."

But I loath these music biopics. What's the point? If you like the singer, don't you want a documentary, with the real footage of her? Why do you want to see an impersonation? These movies are always awful.
posted by Alizaria at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sys Rq: "Is it still blackface if it's a lighter-skinned black person being made darker-skinned? Not a rhetorical question, I'm actually curious.

See Forrest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland.
"

I have seen it, but I'm not sure how that answers my question. I assume he was made up to be darker-skinned than he really is in that movie? Does that make it blackface? Or not?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2012


How did you decide that this is "progress"?

I wouldn't dispute that colorism can be problematic, but:

Isn't it obviously "progress" for a black singer to be portrayed by someone who is, in the way Americans would use the term, black? Black enough so that, in the day, she'd have been kept out of the white schools, and black enough to be sent to the back of the bus, and black enough to be forbidden from marrying a white man, and so on, instead of by a white person in or out of makeup?

Find the best damn actress for the part and then put her in makeup. Add cgi if needed.

Not restricted to racial stuff, but I wonder how long it will be before movies featuring historical personalities who we have solid pictures of will just Avatar-level mocap the actor playing that role and CGI in a model of the person. So, whoever's driving the puppet, it looks just like Nina Simone or Abe Lincoln or Caesar or whoever.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:52 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Considering how arbitrary and imprecise the whole concept of race is (e.g. Americans are very inclined toward categorizing people as "black" rather than "white," while the term "white" has expanded to include a lot of people who used to be considered nonwhite), I don't know how you could sensibly create and enforce a whole set of rules based on race.

This is not about creating and enforcing a whole set of rules based on race. Nor is this about "canonizing the very differences we seek to overcome as a society." This is about a persistent, repeated pattern, where white actors are cast in roles that historically or in the original source belonged to people of color. This is a pattern that leads to such great casting choices as John Wayne as Genghis Khan, a bunch of white kids as Aang, Katara and Sokka from Avatar the Last Airbender (a source where those characters were explicitly nonwhite in an entirely Asian and First Nations fantasy world), Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth as MIT students in 21 when the actual students who inspired the film were Asian-American, Jim Sturgess again and Hugo Weaving in CGI yellowface in the upcoming Cloud Atlas...these are just some recent and/or infamous examples.

Again and again, it's all about how they cast the "best actor for the role," but coincidentally, the best actor is never an actual person of color. Would the casting the best actor for the role excuse fly with white moviegoers if the character in question was George Washington, and the actor cast was Japanese, say Ken Watanabe? He was the best actor for the role, after all, seeing as he's Oscar-nominated and he has all that gravitas! Slap a wig on him, it'll be fine! Moviegoers would of course say, "but George Washington was white, this a travesty of inaccuracy, affront to history," etc. Take a look at what happens when an actor of color is cast in a historically white role, and the virulence of the reaction against it in some corners: how fans reacted to Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor, how fans are reacting to Lucy Liu as Watson in Elementary. It ain't pretty.

Now, in this case, Zoe Saldana is an actress of color, and the point of contention is that her casting reinforces a pattern of casting lighter-skinned black women over darker-skinned black women. Colorism is a thing that happens, and while it's not as egregiously racist and terrible as flat out white-washing, it's still an issue that darker skinned actresses aren't even chosen for the roles that are explicitly for them. Hollywood is unkind to actors and actresses of color in a variety of shitty ways: this is just yet another one of them. It's a terrible Catch-22 that actresses like Zoe Saldana are not white enough for many leading roles that would generally go to white actresses, but not black enough for roles that go to black actresses. It's really fucking depressing that the response to casting like this is a resigned, "well, at least she is black and they didn't cast Angelina Jolie."
posted by yasaman at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2012 [54 favorites]


Now Beyonce is emailing everyone we should ask her what she thinks.
posted by Artw at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, what's Erykah Badu up to these days? Or is her range too high for Nina?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:55 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the real issue is that Idi Amin didn't have Forest Whitaker eye, which is kind of ptosist.
posted by scrowdid at 5:56 PM on September 13, 2012


Oprah out acted by a mile anyway.

Gah. Out acted HER by a mile. She really did. There's a whole alternate career there that never happened.
posted by Artw at 5:56 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does that make it blackface?

Technically no, but it's a sensitive issue. Probably best to stick with black actress, but there's little reason that makeup and cgi couldn't be used to make the appearance closer to Nina Simone. Or try animation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:56 PM on September 13, 2012


Not related to blackness in and of itself, but for what it's worth, Ben Kingsley (who is half-Farsi, half-Indian) took melanin pills to darken his skin for Ghandi.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honest question, has anyone ever complained when it was a male role? Are male actors like Forest Whittaker less likely to be judged on how close they look to the person they are portraying and more likely to be judged on acting ability?

I only ever remember this being an issue with female roles, but there is a good chance I am wrong.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or try animation.

oh man, an expressionist, hand-painted, animated biopic of Nina Simone would fucking kill
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


I have seen it, but I'm not sure how that answers my question. I assume he was made up to be darker-skinned than he really is in that movie? Does that make it blackface? Or not?

It doesn't answer your question, and as the one of the palest people on earth, I'm not really in any position to try.

Yes, he was made up to be darker. It's indeed something that happens, is all.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2012


Honest question, has anyone ever complained when it was a male role?

Tyler Perry's movies are notorious for their colorism, where bad men are quite often darker than good men.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:07 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we make it a rule that everyone has to listen to Four Women before commenting in this thread*?

Anyway, I vote for Mary J. and Viola in that order. Whoppi has a lot of charisma, but Nina has this imperiousness about her that I don't know if she could bring off.

*well, no because Murica, but I wish
posted by Diablevert at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not related to blackness in and of itself, but for what it's worth, Ben Kingsley (who is half-Farsi, half-Indian) took melanin pills to darken his skin for Ghandi.

Are there plans to do similarly in the movie being discussed with makeup or in post?
posted by michaelh at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2012


And four years too late, Saturday Night Live gives job of playing Barack Obama to actual black man.
posted by psoas at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


i see somebody came across one of my twitterrants :)

i vote for Adepero Oduye too. she looks almost exactly as Nina and people say nothing but great things about her acting. so universe, make this happen!
posted by liza at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting datapoint, Caucasians flock to the movies at a rate of 10:1 over African-Americans. MPAA, pdf.

I mean, I don't think you can reasonably argue that anyone wants to give Zoe Saldana the role because they are racist - otherwise, why make a fucking movie about a black singer - but if your point is that lighter-skinned actresses are chosen because the target audience finds them more palatable... well then, maybe there is a point worth discussing there.

I've certainly seen my fair share of Hollywood action flicks starring Asian leads with absurdly identifable characteristics to help distinguish them from all the other Asian bad guys (Lethal Weapon 4, Rush Hour).
posted by phaedon at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2012


liza: "i vote for Adepero Oduye too. she looks almost exactly as Nina and people say nothing but great things about her acting. so universe, make this happen!"

Oh man, in some photos, she looks so much like her it's spooky. The only problem would be that she's relatively unknown, I guess.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:37 PM on September 13, 2012


I agree, Adepero Oduye looks the part- but can she sing?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:39 PM on September 13, 2012


oh man, an expressionist, hand-painted, animated biopic of Nina Simone would fucking kill

Exactly. Plus Nina's music would be used, instead of some actress trying to duplicate it. While not impossible, i'm not sure it would be worth. Why mess with the perfection of the originals?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:43 PM on September 13, 2012


if your point is that lighter-skinned actresses are chosen because the target audience finds them more palatable... well then, maybe there is a point worth discussing there.

Possibly that ratio disparity is because Hollywood historically decided what the target audience was first and has been catering to it so long those outside that group have stopped bothering and/or never got interested in the first place.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:43 PM on September 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


but can she sing?

Why does it matter? We have Simone's recordings. Use those. Musician biopics should never, ever use any re-made versions of that musician's material by other people in a depiction of the artist performing, unless and only unless there are no existing recordings of the original musician.
posted by The World Famous at 6:43 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


When dark-skinned actresses start getting cast as Queen Elizabeth (I or II), or Joan of Arc, or Eleanor Rosevelt, or , then I think we can talk skin-colour being silly. But right now, it's still a huge issue.

The problem I see here is that well intentioned people are insisting it remain an issue.

Saldana isn't exactly fair skinned. Viola Davis and Kimberly Elise fall close, but depending on the picture, perhaps not close enough for sticklers. The pic of Davis up top I think may look unusually dark due to her dress and background. Goldberg might have been able to pull it off twenty years ago, but if one demands a reasonable resemblance, regardless of skin tone, she just won't work now. A quick look at Adepero Oduye's google pics reveal a range of tones that confuse the issue. At some point, a choice will have to be made based on whatever merits satisfy the people involved in this production. And none of the suggestions in the thread so far seem objectionable, unless one's itching to grind that axe.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:50 PM on September 13, 2012


oh man, an expressionist, hand-painted, animated biopic of Nina Simone would fucking kill

That would be awesome. But I think they may want to make some money on this venture.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2012


how could it possibly be fair to also deny her roles because she is "not-black enough"?

When I read the post, the disembodied voice of Ali G started sounding in my head:

"Is it because I is not black enough?"
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:52 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I may be wrong about Goldberg having been dubbed in Sister Act, yikes! I know a lot of performers in the movie were dubbed, but according to this Musto column's comments from someone named Mark M. who seems very knowledgeable about dubbing, she wasn't.

My apologies to Ms. Goldberg!
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:52 PM on September 13, 2012


Heh. I figured she must not have been, because if she had, she would have had more and better actual singing bits.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:53 PM on September 13, 2012


Why does it matter?

It probably doesn't, except for scenes in which the actress is not portraying an actual performance but, perhaps, recording sessions, practice, singing at home etc.

All other things aside, though, I would still put factors like "acting ability" and "singing ability" above "dark enough skin."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:56 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


When dark-skinned actresses start getting cast as Queen Elizabeth (I or II), or Joan of Arc, or Eleanor Rosevelt, or , then I think we can talk skin-colour being silly. But right now, it's still a huge issue.

Come to think of it, TV Cercei's eyebrows are a little dark for a Lannister, aren't they?
posted by condour75 at 6:58 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we make it a rule that everyone has to listen to Four Women before commenting in this thread*?

I am familiar with the work. Not really sure it's the ode to fine grain racism/reverse-racism/anti-racism/whatever people here seem to think - I always thought it was about her family history.
posted by Artw at 6:59 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Angelina Jolie's depiction of Mariane Pearl, an Afro-Cuban/Chinese/French writer.

Mariane Pearl wanted Angelina Jolie to play her. I'm sure if Pearl had said no, Jolie wouldn't have done it.
posted by discopolo at 7:01 PM on September 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Years and years ago, I went to a poetry performance at University Of Portland on a date. Ath the reading a beautiful, beautiful darkly skinned African woman went on about how when she was growing up, Ororo Munroe of the X-Men was a huge influence on her. She was a powerful, beautiful woman of proud African heritage and dark skin who was never brought to be ashamed of her race or do anything that either drew attention away from her deep African roots. In the X-Men cartoon, Storm was a strong woman with dark skin who had an African accent (played down to many degrees for the cartoon, but it was still an accent) and wore her ancestry proudly.

And then came the X-Men films. Even though Storm is probably the darkest skinned black person in popular comics, even though Ororo can trace her tribal heritage to the dawn of man, and despite the poets prayers and pleas to anybody that may have listened.. Storm was.. well, we all know how that story ended.
posted by mediocre at 7:01 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's funny, my first response when I head about this that this movie is not going to get made without a bankable star like Saldana. This is basic How Movies Work 101. Nobody wants to make a biopic with a nobody cast in the lead role, no matter how much said nobody resembles the subject, or has the right ethnic background, or even how talented they are. No movie that doesn't center around boardgame franchises or explosions is going to get made without HUGE star power, and a biopic, well, that's the whole point of a biopic. It's about the star turn, not the actor's skin color.

Now I'm starting to back off from that position. I think that, sometimes, it's best to sit back and wait for the right actor to come to a role like that, rather than saying, "Overworked Assistant, I'd like a list of 10 bankable actors who could play Nina Simone and a skinny vanilla latte. Stat."

That's what's so great about Stephen Fry's portrayal of Oscar Wilde -- nobody went looking for someone who would put asses in seats as Wilde, it all came together organically. And it's perfect. And Wilde would be unwatchable garbage if they'd gone ahead and made the movie without that level of casting genius.

(Personally I think they blew their chance -- Nina Simone should have been Whoopi Goldberg's follow-up to The Color Purple.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:03 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


In related news, SNL is finally letting Jay Pharoah take over the Barack Obama impression from Fred Armisen, a mere two years after Pharoah started on the show.
posted by themanwho at 7:05 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


A common jokey-thing among my friends when topics like this are brought up..

Person 1: Blah blah blah an African American woman blah blah.
Person 2: African American like Charlize Theron.
Person 1: No, an African, African American.
Person 2: Like Dave Matthews?
Person 1: No, like.. an African.. African, African American.
Person 2: So.. do you mean like ZP Theart. (former vocalist for Dragonforce)
Person 1: NO! Like, an African.. AFRICAN!
Person 2: You mean a black person?
Person 1: Well you don't have to be so racial about it.

It's a stupid, obvious, who's-on-first style bit.. but always makes me snicker..
posted by mediocre at 7:09 PM on September 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Not related to blackness in and of itself, but for what it's worth, Ben Kingsley (who is half-Farsi, half-Indian) took melanin pills to darken his skin for Ghandi.

I'll never forget the time in college that I got all outragey about A White Guy Playing Fucking Gandhi, For Chrissakes!!!! Only to be informed that Kingsley is, in fact, biracial and of Indian heritage.
posted by Sara C. at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do your friends not pretend to understand how English usage works a lot? "Oh, put your bags in the trunk. Of the elephant! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:12 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


My favorite is when Americans call people who are not American "African American", realize that doesn't quite work and going into a panic trying not to say Black. Anyway, I thought fashion had swung round on this?
posted by Artw at 7:15 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll never forget the time in college that I got all outragey about A White Guy Playing Fucking Gandhi, For Chrissakes!!!! Only to be informed that Kingsley is, in fact, biracial and of Indian heritage.

He's playing a Chinese dude in the new Iron Man.
posted by Artw at 7:16 PM on September 13, 2012


Well . . .

Much of the "controversy" has been fostered by Nina Simone's daughter, who has a lot of issues regarding her mother herself. Add those on top of Simone's many issues (such mental issues resulting in erratic behavior, violence and paranoia, issues of bitterness, race and beauty resulting from instances of extreme racism, additional issues with race and beauty that, in all fairness, probably transcend those resulting from racism, and issues with men and sexuality) - not to mention the tangled sentiments regarding a lot of these issues in her songs.

I've been told by LA friends that Simone (Nina's daughter) has been quietly promoting herself for the role, which would be ironic because:

1) She generally had a troubled and distant relationship with her mother.
2) She herself is biracial (and fairly light-skinned) and much more conventionally attractive than her mother.
3) She worked hard in the last years of her mother's life (and since) to become overtly identified with her mother - changing her name to "Simone" (her real name is Lisa Stroud), recording an album of songs made famous by her mother, and so on. I saw her years ago in "Rent," and she was pretty good, but her career stalled after that, and since that point she seems to promote herself as the spiritual legacy of her mother to the exclusion of anything else. I can kind of understand that - and of course, she is Nina's only daughter - but they didn't spend much time together and certainly didn't share anything like the same life. So it feels opportunistic to me, and were I hearing about this controversy from other people - not Lisa / Simone - I'd put more stock in it. Though certainly, she has every right to care about the legacy of her mother, whom she clearly adores. You can subscribe to the Nina Simone fan page on Facebook, where she posts pretty provocative posts about this.

My personal feeling is that no one really looks like Nina that much (I could spot the difference between her and Whoopi from a mile away.) And no one really sounds like Nina much. So I'd almost see a fictionalized, far-from-perfect imagination of Nina's life than something that tries too hard to sound / look / feel exactly like Nina's life . . . because that would almost certainly be a failure.

So I saw, Zoe Saldana, bring it on!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:20 PM on September 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


He's playing a Chinese dude in the new Iron Man.

But I thought his version of the Mandarin isn't going to be ethnically Chinese?

Regardless, Andy Lau is in the new Iron Man, and I find that funny for no particular reason.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:21 PM on September 13, 2012


I am familiar with the work. Not really sure it's the ode to fine grain racism/reverse-racism/anti-racism/whatever people here seem to think - I always thought it was about her family history.

Really? I've never heard that. I googled a bit to see if I could find anything from Nina herself about the inspiration for it, but came up blank; did find a lot of stuff like this though, from people talking about how they'd always seen the women as archetypes.
posted by Diablevert at 7:27 PM on September 13, 2012


And because this is a Nina Simone thread, and no-one has really posted any clips yet, and because Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner: Eretz Zavat Chalav.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:27 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, riddle me this:

Is it racist that the villain in the Met In HD broadcast of Wagner's Ring Cycle is black, when everyone else is white?

What if the dude playing Alberich is actually super talented and one of the best parts? (And I think the only bass roles in it are bad guys, anyway.) What if it's actually kind of cool that there are black male opera singers, and that they get cast in Wagner?
posted by Sara C. at 7:29 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


(And I think the only bass roles in it are bad guys, anyway.)

Tenor privilege.
posted by michaelh at 7:39 PM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


When dark-skinned actresses start getting cast as Queen Elizabeth (I or II)

What about Queen Elizabeth X?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:51 PM on September 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Whoops, wrong. Wotan is also bass. I think the guy playing Alderich is too inexperienced to carry Wotan in this production, but I'd love to see that. This is why opera rules, btw -- you can cast all the roles as many times as you want, over and over in production after production. You don't have to worry about This Actress as Nina Simone for all time.
posted by Sara C. at 7:52 PM on September 13, 2012


But I thought his version of the Mandarin isn't going to be ethnically Chinese?

Which avoids the yellow peril problem, I guess, but could still be seen as whitewashing.

Really? I've never heard that. I googled a bit to see if I could find anything from Nina herself about the inspiration for it, but came up blank; did find a lot of stuff like this though, from people talking about how they'd always seen the women as archetypes.

Oh, I could be entirely off base, but I had it as the women being all kind of related and the last one being the one that most resembled Nina. That could be bollocks though.
posted by Artw at 8:03 PM on September 13, 2012


Not related to blackness in and of itself, but for what it's worth, Ben Kingsley (who is half-Farsi, half-Indian) took melanin pills to darken his skin for Ghandi.

I'll never forget the time in college that I got all outragey about A White Guy Playing Fucking Gandhi, For Chrissakes!!!! Only to be informed that Kingsley is, in fact, biracial and of Indian heritage.


He's half Gujarati and half white-English-and-possibly-Jewish. Not sure where Farsi is coming from, I don't think that's involved.
posted by sweetkid at 8:41 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regardless, Andy Lau is in the new Iron Man, and I find that funny for no particular reason.

Yeah...about that...
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:50 PM on September 13, 2012


I'm guessing there's some Farsi-Parsi confusion? AFAIK nobody refers to Iranians or Persians as "Farsi", anyway. Farsi is a language.

Then again, Kingsley isn't remotely Parsi. But shit's complicated, I guess.

Hey, at least the casting folks on Ghandhi cast a (half) Gujurati. Dodged a bullet there.
posted by Sara C. at 8:56 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


this woman does not need some shitty Hollywood biopic degrading her legacy. watch the video below til the end. any actress who can summon a small fraction of Nina Simone's fierce, fragile, awkward and deeply human genius should get the role. i would much rather a Ken Burns PBS mini-series on Nina than what this film will turn out to be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxzPeojtmUA
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 8:58 PM on September 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whoever plays Nina Simone, I hope said actress has the acting chops to bring her story to life. She deserves that much.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:00 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]



I'm guessing there's some Farsi-Parsi confusion? AFAIK nobody refers to Iranians or Persians as "Farsi", anyway. Farsi is a language.

Then again, Kingsley isn't remotely Parsi. But shit's complicated, I guess.

Hey, at least the casting folks on Ghandhi cast a (half) Gujurati. Dodged a bullet there.


Gandhi was Gujarati, so that half of the casting was even more accurate than one might expect.
posted by sweetkid at 9:01 PM on September 13, 2012


Skin tone aside, I just can't imagine Nina Simone's powerful voice coming out of Zoe Saldana.
posted by rocket88 at 9:04 PM on September 13, 2012


What about Jennifer Hudson?
posted by cazoo at 9:04 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


sweetkid, that's what I was getting at.
posted by Sara C. at 9:14 PM on September 13, 2012


phaedon: I don't understand the obligation to canonize the very differences we seek to overcome as a society. What about Black Orpheus, a top-shelf Brazilian adaptation of a Greek legend? Or, should Mercutio be black, as he was in Romeo + Juliet? I dunno, maybe those are dense comparisons. It just seems that as long as the change goes one way, it's beautiful artistic license; the other way it has to be oppressive and we have to create a new word that ends in -ism.

As a perhaps-naive first approximation, maybe the line should be drawn between fictional and real characters. Fictional characters should be playable by anyone, where real characters should look as much like the original as possible, perhaps?

I still think the furor over casting Idris Elba as Heimdall was racism. I understood it for a second when I first heard it, because a black Aesir is counter to the mythology. But then, a couple beats later, I realized... they're fictional. They can be anything. If I imagine them as white, that doesn't mean that's correct. That's my failing, my own form of racism.

As it turns out, Elba was a bright spot in a fairly bad movie. The directors definitely made the right call.
posted by Malor at 9:17 PM on September 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think Zoe is a fine choice; she's a good actress. Black people come in all shades, from Lena Horne pale (and lighter) to Alek Wek (and darker). There shouldn't be a paper bag test. She's talented and probably fits the age they wish to portray of Simone. I love Mary J Blige but I'm not that confident of her ability to act. I don't know how well Zoe sings but maybe it'll be believably dubbed.

this woman does not need some shitty Hollywood biopic degrading her legacy.

What? Jamie Foxx did an excellent job in his biopic of Ray Charles and Will Smith did great in his role as Muhammad Ali. And Denzel did fine as Malcolm X, even though he's darker (snark). And of those three, I think the Malcolm movie was the weakest.

Nina was a very talented singer but not a household name. Movies are a business, there's a line to walk between selecting an actress with some box office draw to bring in those people who never heard of her and being true to her incredible talent.
posted by shoesietart at 9:44 PM on September 13, 2012


This is why I stick to documentaries.
posted by mazola at 9:50 PM on September 13, 2012


Interesting datapoint, Caucasians flock to the movies at a rate of 10:1 over African-Americans. MPAA, pdf.

tl;dr, but does this mean NPR was wrong in their story on the same issue?

My favorite is when Americans call people who are not American "African American", realize that doesn't quite work and going into a panic trying not to say Black. Anyway, I thought fashion had swung round on this?

Where is it happening that people consider using "Black" to be problematic?

Why does it matter? We have Simone's recordings. Use those. Musician biopics should never, ever use any re-made versions of that musician's material by other people in a depiction of the artist performing, unless and only unless there are no existing recordings of the original musician.

Not sure I agree with that. I've seen Audra McDonald suggested for the Nina Simone role and I think I'd be fine with her interpreting the songs in her own voice (assuming she could dial back the "operatic" style).

Racialicious had a take on the Zoe Saldana casting a few weeks ago. I found some of the comments to be more enlightening than the article.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:01 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fictional characters should be playable by anyone, where real characters should look as much like the original as possible, perhaps?

I agree with you when it comes to mythological characters or, say, the majority of Shakespeare and big pop culture icon/archetype characters. But I strongly believe that in some stories, the characters should not be whitewashed or race-swapped, because their culture and/or race is crucial to the text.

I'll return to the example of Avatar the Last Airbender. A:tLA was an animated show that was deeply rooted in its pan-Asian/First Nations fantasy world. The entirety of the worldbuilding was Asian and First Nations inspired, in mostly thoughtful ways. This show wasn't (and isn't, in its sequel Legend of Korra) a slapdash, superficial melange of Asian fantasy stereotypes. In that context, to replace the unambiguously Asian and First Nations characters with white actors is a slap in the face, not least because so many Asian-American children and young adults loved the show so much because it represented their cultures. When it comes to a scenario like that, you have to question why a white actor becomes "the best actor for the role," or why it suddenly becomes important to strip the cultural specificity from the story, when the original was perfectly successful and beloved as it was. Kids and adults who loved the show weren't watching it thinking, "You know what this show could use? MORE WHITE PEOPLE."

Or in another example, what about Shakespeare's Othello? Othello's race is a big factor in the text. There have been race-swapped versions, but I believe many of those did an entirely race-swapped cast, i.e. making all the traditionally white characters black. At any rate, a fair amount of nuance would be lost if you cast a white Othello and maintained a white cast on top of that. And obviously, blackface is Not Okay.

I think most people can agree that until we reach that magical post-racial world of perfect harmony, casting a white person as Malcolm X or similar whitewashing of actual historical people is wrong, disrespectful, and playing into racist patterns. The more grey area comes with instances like black actresses and colorism, or when it is and isn't okay to be raceblind in casting established fictional characters.
posted by yasaman at 10:06 PM on September 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


When dark-skinned actresses start getting cast as Queen Elizabeth (I or II)

What about Queen Elizabeth X?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:51 PM on 9/13
[+] [!]


I forgot her - and she's my favourite Elizabeth!

actually, British television is doing pretty well these days and is more racially integrated than American television -- including doing stuff like casting a black woman as a descendant of the Windsors (an awesome descendant).
posted by jb at 10:06 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


not a household name

A . for the world.
posted by Artw at 10:18 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where is it happening that people consider using "Black" to be problematic?

The 90s mostly.
posted by Artw at 10:19 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where is it happening that people consider using "Black" to be problematic?

I recall watching American news coverage of riots in suburbs out of Paris, and many of those involved were (black) African immigrants (or their children, mostly) and the newscasters kept referring to them as "African-American". And when they realized ther mistake, the seemed worried at first and then no longer referred to their ethnicity at all. They just couldn't bring themselves to say "black" and evidently couldn't conjure "French-African" or something like that.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:28 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


of the various euphemisms for 'black', it's the word 'urban' that makes me facepalm the most.
posted by cendawanita at 12:58 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm guessing there's some Farsi-Parsi confusion? AFAIK nobody refers to Iranians or Persians as "Farsi", anyway. Farsi is a language.

Whoops! My mistake, never again.

I also could have sworn that Kingsley was half-Parsi, but obviously he's not. A crossed wire in my mind somewhere...
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:27 AM on September 14, 2012


Ben Kingsley is ... playing a Chinese dude in the new Iron Man.

So I guess this is the inverse of Max Minghella playing an Indian dude in The Social Network?
posted by psoas at 6:12 AM on September 14, 2012


Find the best damn actress for the part

The story I've heard about Night of the Living Dead was that George Romero didn't particularly conceive of Ben as a black man, but Duane Jones' audition was outstanding.
posted by Gelatin at 6:46 AM on September 14, 2012


Ta-Nehisi Coates:
"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."
posted by Gelatin at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


of the various euphemisms for 'black', it's the word 'urban' that makes me facepalm the most.

Yeah but I can give it a bit of pass since "urban" sometimes connotes "dominated by/focused on minorities". Those minorities may not necessarily be only Blacks. "Urban" is often more of a lifestyle designation than a racial one.

"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."

There it is. It's as if the people who decided to cast Saldana are pretending to know nothing about Nina Simone's history. They're also putting the actress portraying her on the defensive in a particularly sensitive way. It'll be interesting to see where the filmmakers allow Saldana to be interviewed about the movie.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:27 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why are people defending the casting so much? Yeah you need bankable stars, but that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when darker-skinned Black actors and (especially) actresses are never cast in major roles and so never become "bankable".

Especially for such an iconic Black singer who was so upfront about her race, they shoud have cast a Black actress. I think they should have cast a darker-skinned Black actress. There are practically no roles for women like that in the US to begin with.

Especially with the OP specifically discussing lighter-is-prettier beauty standards for African-American women, this thread has been disappointing. Everytime something like this happens it just drives that point home even more.

For the record, while the line between "Korean" and "Japanese" and "Chinese" can be fuzzier than what some people think, I don't think it's right for Hollywood to treat all East Asian roles as interchangeable, either. Maybe it's harder to find the "right" person for the role, who has the right skills *and* the right looks, but don't you respect productions more, when they do?
posted by subdee at 8:38 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Small detail, but this bit in the first article linked to under the fold made my eyes roll so hard they almost spinned out of my orbits:

Hollywood has a long history of giving black actresses the finger by casting white women in the lead of films based on the lives of black women -- most famously Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Sorry, but the whole discussion of "were the ancient Egyptians black?" gets ridiculous enough without involving ol' Cleo, who, as last of the Ptolemies, was of indiscutably Greek stock...
posted by Skeptic at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


For the record, while the line between "Korean" and "Japanese" and "Chinese" can be fuzzier than what some people think, I don't think it's right for Hollywood to treat all East Asian roles as interchangeable, either

I have to say that Memoirs of a Geisha being cast pretty much entirely with famous Chinese Actresses seemed a bit off. Also: Terrible movie.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on September 14, 2012


Why are people defending the casting so much? Yeah you need bankable stars, but that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when darker-skinned Black actors and (especially) actresses are never cast in major roles and so never become "bankable".

With respect, no.

Movies cost tens of millions of dollars to make, and as much if not more to promote. It really does have to be a name star. Nobody is going to green light a hundred million dollar sweeping period oscar-bait biopic starring... some chick who did a commercial once.

If we're talking about a ten-episode order of a low budget cable series, sure. For example I worked on the pilot for the USA series Suits, and on my very first day I knew this was going to be a great job when I discovered that they'd cast Gina Torres as the head of a corporate law firm. Reading the script, there's no indication of the character's race. They had the freedom to go in any direction, and they used it. (also this one time i got to buy Zoe from Firefly a frappucino and it was amazing and i might still be a little starstruck about it squeeeee)

The rise of cable is probably going to prove to be a really big deal for issues like colorism and blind casting, because the stakes are a lot lower. There is a generation of young actors working on smaller projects like this who are making a name for themselves, and who are going to move things in the right direction. In the next five or ten years, we are definitely going to see less Halle Berry and more Viola Davis as this stuff trickles upwards to higher stakes projects.

Which is why I think the best approach would be to let the Nina Simone movie hover in development-land until they really find the fucking perfect person for the role. Because she's definitely out there.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 AM on September 14, 2012


Especially for such an iconic Black singer who was so upfront about her race, they shoud have cast a Black actress. I think they should have cast a darker-skinned Black actress. There are practically no roles for women like that in the US to begin with.

Zoe Saldana is a black actress and by no strecth is she 'high yaller.' No one is going to mistake her for a white girl.

India Arie would have been a good choice. A major theme of her music is self love despite the world not always seeing your beauty. Many felt she lost Grammy awards to Alicia Keys a few years ago because of her look (dark skin, wide nose and nappy hair). They are both very talented singers but Alicia has more cross-over appeal, i.e. dance music, versus singing about black love and beauty.

In any case, I don't think any black actress should be told you're too black or not black enough.
posted by shoesietart at 11:43 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


bleep: Is it just me or do we have this same conversation over and over around here when it comes to people who have been historically oppressed continue to have these things happen and someone comes along and says "We're post-racism now! It doesn't matter!" or "We're post-sexism now! That makes it ok!"
I missed where anyone at all made either of these claims.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2012


Who ever plays her has to live up to the passion and intensity of this.

posted by shnarg at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2012


I was referring to this comment:
Considering how arbitrary and imprecise the whole concept of race is (e.g. Americans are very inclined toward categorizing people as "black" rather than "white," while the term "white" has expanded to include a lot of people who used to be considered nonwhite), I don't know how you could sensibly create and enforce a whole set of rules based on race.

"We don't even know what race is anymore!" is another variant of "Surely this doesn't matter anymore!" that I've been noticing a lot lately in similar threads. It was ok to know what race was when we used it to beat people down, but using it to expand opportunities is suddenly wrong?
posted by bleep at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm from South Asia, and have experienced colorism from my own mother.

My dad is darker skinned than my mom, and us kids have a coloring that is closer to him than my mom. As we were growing up, my mom would tell us we were dark and ugly. She told us not to play outside because it would make us even darker and uglier. Nevertheless, I spent the majority of the summer between 6th and 7th grade playing outside. I got a little darker, but it faded by winter. My mom to this day swears that I am still dark from being outside for so long in the summer of 1990.

Light skin is very prized in South Asia. So much so that they have products like Fair and Lovely. By applying this cream, a can allegedly lighten her skin by three or four shades! Seeing as there are not really any standards in place regarding truth in advertising, these products make their manufacturers boatloads of money.

Finally, a funny story. I was in Bangladesh back in 2006. I am much lighter skinned than most of the people in that country. While I was there, my 20 year old cousins had several friends over for a birthday party. While we were talking, I let slip that I used 3-4 tubes of Fair and Lovely every day and had done so for the past 10 years. Thus, I had much lighter skin. All of the girls ooh'ed and aah'ed, delighted to see someone they knew who had gotten such great results using such a product. I'm sure they would have bought all of the Fair and Lovely in the country had I not told them it was all a joke.
posted by reenum at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to point out that we're 100+ comments in not one person has acknowledged Zoe Saldana's Hispanic heritage: she's half Dominican and half Puerto Rican. There is very little respect for racial / cultural heritage in Hollywood.

I also think it's offensive to say that making a distinction between Chinese and Japanese is actors "going too far."
posted by anthropoid at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also think it's offensive to say that making a distinction between Chinese and Japanese is actors "going too far."
posted by anthropoid at 4:46 PM on September 14 [1 favorite +] [!]


I understand the historic animosity between Chinese and Japanese people - especially from the Chinese side - I have much less sympathy for Japanese people objecting to a Chinese actress playing a Japanese character.

I have also heard that, claims to the contrary, research has shown that Asian people cannot distinguish between Chinese, Japanese and other north-east Asian nationalities based on appearance alone. It's like distinguishing between eastern Europeans and western Europeans - there may be some phenotypes that are more common in one place than another, but no one would ever say that a Brit should never play a Russian or vice-versa (and the UK and Russia are substantially farther apart than Korea, north China and Japan, and have much, much less inter-migration than those three areas).
posted by jb at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was ok to know what race was when we used it to beat people down, but using it to expand opportunities is suddenly wrong?

When the problem is sorting people by skin color, the solution is not changing the polarity on the discrimination, it's not sorting anymore. Help people because they are poor, not because they are black. Doing otherwise is still racism.
posted by Malor at 4:22 PM on September 14, 2012


I think it's important to point out that we're 100+ comments in not one person has acknowledged Zoe Saldana's Hispanic heritage: she's half Dominican and half Puerto Rican. There is very little respect for racial / cultural heritage in Hollywood.

Because it's kind of not relevant...to being a black person. Sidney Poitier is from the Bahamas, Harry Belafonte's parent's are from Martinique and Jamaica. Malcolm X's mother was from Grenada. Obama's dad is from Kenya. That's how race works. In America.

With the exception of Kenya, these were all slave holding countries in the New World. And Obama's mother was from America so we still get the slave holding part. The one-drop rule and all...
posted by shoesietart at 5:09 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think most people can agree that until we reach that magical post-racial world of perfect harmony

Someone needs to cast a spell.
posted by homunculus at 9:29 PM on September 14, 2012


Black Perspective: Garrett Morris and Julian Bond on IQ tests
posted by homunculus at 9:34 PM on September 14, 2012


Now that we've all had this run of talk about Soldana's ancestry, competing actors, etc. is anyone going to mention the writer-director?

Cynthia Mort (Caucasian, b. 1956) has a long resume as a sitcom writer. She's also Jodie Foster's ex-girlfriend, but there's nothing in her C.V. that indicates she's capable of writing or lensing the next The Color Purple, which is exactly what this film would need to be for it to be successful.

And why isn't Oprah producing this joint? Or Alice Walker writing?

6 years as a writer, producer and show-runner on Will and Grace and Roseanne aren't the strongest qualifications for writing a feature as iconic as Simone's life.

But the NYTimes article says that most of the story is going to be made-up, anyway, so we should all probably just stop worrying about it at this point.
posted by vhsiv at 6:14 PM on September 15, 2012


Since I found this notion abjectly terrifying, I rushed off to confirm that it's incorrect -- she's 56.

56 56, or Hollywood 56?

Not Whoopist or Ageist here, just, well ... I once went to a class reunion, and the guy who was a Hollywood actor looked 15 years younger than everyone else, and I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that he listed his age as younger too.
posted by zippy at 6:37 PM on September 15, 2012


Or Alice Walker writing?

Because Alice Walker isn't a screenwriter?

There are lots of black screenwriters and filmmakers. I had a good idea of what to expect from a sorta boilerplate oscar-bait Nina Simone biopic, and what I'm actually seeing is not it. Way beyond the Zoe Saldana thing. I was thinking Spike Lee involved somewhere, maybe Darnell Martin directing (unless they wanted to give it to some huge oscar-winning auteur a la The Color Purple and Speilberg). A black screenwriter for sure, unless there's some seminal book they're adapting this from in which case that stuff doesn't matter as much.

The whiteness of the production team also casts a much more negative light on the casting issues -- there is a strong chance that everything folks are saying about colorism in film is absolutely true in this case, just based on the fact that the filmmaker is white, most of the people involved creatively in the film are probably white, and the studio executives are almost certainly white. Even if everyone is very well-meaning, this is the kind of thing that people tend to be blind to.

The good news? The more I hear about this movie, the more I think it's never actually going to get made.
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


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