Zoe Saldana, Nina Simone, & Hollywood Blaxploitation

The outcry against the recently dropped Nina Simone biopic has been feverishly enormous. Many people are not feeling what they see. Zoe Saldana’s makeup artists did her no justice as her skin resembles a gentler form of Blackface. And then there is the idea of HOW Nina will be depicted. The trailer seems to reference some strange relationship with her “male help”. In all, the biopic seems seriously slopped together.

Alas, none of these eventual occurrences should surprise anyone. For one, Nina Simone’s estate had been against the casting in the first place. Lisa Simone Kelly (Nina’s daughter) noted one of the issues a while back in an interview:

My mother suffered. We can go all the way back to when she was a child and people told her nose was too big, her skin was too dark, her lips were too wide. It’s very important the world acknowledges my mother was a classical musician whose dreams were not realized because of racism. [1]

Zoe Saldana (L) & Nina Simone (R)
Zoe Saldana (L) & Nina Simone (R)

One would think the producers (who are not Nina Simone experts) would take note of what the daughter said. Still, the trailer says the expected: the movie will be less about facts and more about interpretation.

This interpretation of Blackness should trouble everyone because it demonstrates the common flaw of many Black biopics: the persistent bastardization and exploitation of the Black experience.

Nina Simone and the Exploited Blackness

What this movie will suffer from isn’t anything new when it comes to Hollywood’s attempt to tell the Black story correctly. Many attempts have wavered between the good-yet-cheesy 42 to the never-should-have-seen-the-green-light-disasters (Winnie Mandela movie and The Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story). There have been quite a few that made their mark in telling the story like it should have been told (X and Selma). Still, there have been too many missteps and mishaps due to omitted information, shaky themes, “Caucasian saviorism”, and plot distractions that make the story more fictional than biographical. In short, too many Black biopics do not give the audience the real truth.

nina simone

You all see this? This type of stuff should NEVER occur.

This is where the Nina Simone biopic will seem to fall. When Nina Simone is spoken about, there needs to be an understanding of what she represented and why. She was a classically trained musician that was both activist and feminist. As flawed as she was, she was equally dynamic and liberated. All of these factors have to be mentioned. Otherwise, there is nothing left but a half told story that tells the tale of a musician in fictional form. The last thing this world needs is a Black biopic that is more interpretive opinion than fact.

You know: because this biopic is based on a situation that is probably pure bullshit.

nina simone

Oh, and there is also Zoe Saldana. As great of an actress that she is, the entire makeup situation is going to give many viewers an issue. The entire situation looks like a minstrel show with a nicer budget. If they wanted some authenticity and darker skin with a bigger nose and teeth, then maybe they should have chosen an actress that ISN’T Zoe. I’m just saying: you can’t put glaze on a piece of Wonder bread and call it a donut. Same rules apply here.

Nina Simone to Infinity

Personally, the producers of this movie should not have made it. However, we have to give three cheers to Hollywood Blaxploitation once again. Now, we all can choose to witness a trainwreck of a movie that deals with fictional situations, bad makeup, and even worse premises. At some point, we have to realize that everyone wasn’t engaged enough to learn from other debacles in Black biopics. In short, Nina Simone deserves better than a Lifetime movie styled dedication with a slightly bigger budget; she deserves her true story told the way it was lived.