Queen Latifah Defends Zoe Saldana’s Portrayal Of Nina Simone And Misses The Point

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On Monday at the Hollywood premiere of ‘Perfect Match‘ an AP reporter stopped Queen Latifah on the red carpet, and asked her to share her thoughts on the highly critical feedback of Zoe Saldana’s portrayal of Nina Simone. 

Here’s what she had to say: 

“I think Zoe Saldana’s a great actress. So I am looking forward to it,” Latifah responded before adding. “She is of African descent, I don’t see why she shouldn’t play the role. I just want to see it.”

Sadly, Queen Latifah’s first comment proves that she hasn’t yet grasped the issue with Zoe Saldana’s portrayal. Zoe being a “great actress” is a subjective observation but blackface is not. If an actor or actress has to paint their skin darker to make their portrayal more believable then they’re not the person for that role.

Simple? Clearly for Queen Latifah this is a hard one to grasp. 

Though Nina Simone’s daughter had no problem with Zoe playing her mother in blackface, Nina Simone would not have been so pleased. Nina’s desire was for Whoopi Goldberg to play her in her biopic. And though it seems that Whoopi was not an option at the time someone that resembled Nina, not even her facial features but her skin tone would have sufficed. Living in her blackness and her African features was something that Nina Simone took much pride in. To give the role to a black woman that had to paint her skin darker to mimic Simone’s appearance shows the upmost disrespect to a woman who’s legacy was unapologetically celebrating her unique blackness: her dark skin, full lips and wide nose. 



Being of African descent doesn’t negate the fact that Zoe’s blackface is a product of colorism. There are far too many dark skinned actresses that could have taken on the role of Nina Simone and done a fine job. And if the white director would have taken this is into consideration this would not have been an issue. We would probably be discussing the inaccuracy of the story behind the movie, which caused Lisa Simone Kelly (Nina Simone’s daughter) to abandon the project and get behind ‘What Happened Nina Simone’: a Netflix documentary that a was recently nominated for an Oscar; and not the inaccuracy of Simone’s appearance. 

This is not new to us. Hollywood makes it their business to let black people know they don’t matter, especially dark skin black people and this is just one of the million ways. It is a known fact that lighter skin actresses get more parts than darker ones. They make the casting directors more comfortable because they can pass as racially ambiguous, while the darker skinned actresses are more of an “undeniable black”. You can’t gloss over a dark skin woman’s blackness, it’s obvious, therefore it has to be acknowledged. And the acknowledgement of blackness still makes many people uncomfortable. 

This isn’t a question of Zoe being a great actress or even her being black enough, because black is what she is. There are no questions because the truth is in our face: Nina Simone’s blackness was dark, was bold, undeniable and shined an indisputable light. Painting Zoe darker, or any other black actress for that matter discounts everything Nina Simone stood for. 

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