Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is Casting Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone a Wasted Opportunity?

Photograph of Nina Simone via Visionary Artistry Mag

Take French lessons, go swimming a lot, buy Langston Hughes books, get high, hire a girl once a week to take care of your clothes (sew, clean, organize closets), find a psychiatrist, a Spanish babysitter, take dancing, find shoemaker, write Hazel Scott, find yellow pills, buy books a friend told me about, stop abusing Andrew.
-Nina Simone, from a list made to herself (written on Air France letterhead), 1965

I typically don't use this space to rant but I am outraged that Zoe Saldana has been cast to play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. Nothing against Saldana, I don't know her work well and from what I've read of her, she is a smart, opinionated, talented woman. However, she is no Nina.

What a wasted opportunity.

One (of many) things so captivating about Nina was that she wasn't a traditional beauty but charmed people with the depth and sorrow of her voice. To cast someone like Saldana whose beauty is so conventional (not that there is anything wrong with that) is to fail to tell a story of vision, grit and perseverance in an industry that doesn't necessarily value any of the above. Especially not at the time Simone was trying to break in.

I am disappointed that Hollywood, YET AGAIN, doesn't know what to do with the life and legacy of a smart, talented, complicated woman. All we get is a dumbed down, skinnier, "prettier", over-simplified version of a woman who was anything but.

Am I being too harsh? 


  1. I don't know the actress and it would be itneresting to see how she will pull of the role (or won't)...
    I'm intrested ... Who would you have cast?

    1. My preference would mostly be for somebody older, less main-stream famous, less conventional.

  2. While I understand the points being raised here, I think the suitability of Zoe Saldana (whom I didn't know until now, or her work) as Nina would depend on how good of an actress Zoe Saldana is and on what kind of an image she and the moviemakers will create for her as Nina. There have been a number of movies in which objectively pretty women have been transmogrified into less than spectacular characters (Charlize Theron in Monster comes immediately to mind) to rather good results. It may very well be that it was a bad decision to cast Zoe Saldana as Nina, but this is a bit hard for me to say before the movie comes out. P.S. I love Nina Simone, so I'm hoping, too, that the movie will do her justice.