Zoe: Blue, Green and Regular Black

1 Apr

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Last night, my guy and I watched “Drumline”. We laughed as quotes about “hot butter biscuits” and “one band one sound” slid off our tongues and marveled over the young Nick Cannon and Zoe Saldana in the 13-year-old film.

“She hasn’t aged a bit,” he awed. It’s true. The love interest with the faint accent and hint of spice looked exactly the same. Same slender dancer frame, same big doe-like eyes, same slightly jutted chin. In hindsight, one can say that chin alone signaled her refusal to let her role in “Drumline” be her hit, her determination not to be relegated to the cinematic cemetery so many promising “Blacktresses” get buried alive in.

Who knew the fresh-faced dancer would one day defy color and culture to reach audiences far beyond even Cannon’s grasp?

Right after “Colombiana’s” release, Ebony magazine featured Saldana on its September 2011 cover under the title “Black, Latina and Fierce.”

In the article, she discusses how she fought for the lead in “Colombiana,”how she went to the director or producer, and despite reservations won the role against the odds with her tenacity.

“When I go after a part, [people] better watch their backs,” she says. “Not because I’m going to crush everybody, but because I’m going to give the best that I can because I strive for excellence. When you don’t get a part, it is for a reason, and these pieces will fall into place soon. … We have a Black president right now, so why the f— would I sit down and talk about how hard it is for Black women in Hollywood when there’s a Black president in my country?”

Some scoffed at her words. But I was in awe of her spirit.  I cheered as she was coated in beautiful blue CGI to embody “Avatar’s” Neytiri. I pumped my fist when she was gloriously green in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

But painted mahogany as Nina Simone? Simone wasn’t a mythology creature. Simone wasn’t a comic book character. Despite her foreign stage name, her face, voice and words belong to Eunice Kathleen Waylon, the daughter of a Methodist preacher mother and a handyman father. Raised in North Carolina, she changed her name to mask her identity from religious relatives when talent took from the church into jazz clubs. The unapologetic talent and fierce words packed beneath her dark skin, wide nose and thick lips made her an icon.

While I don’t doubt Saldana’s acting skills, I wonder what Simone herself would think of the film. Her family has distanced itself by responding with a documentary of its own. They argue the movie’s premise about an affair between Simone and her nurse is ridiculous given her nurse was openly gay.

So who is the movie for? Not Black women, or the choice of Saldana in blackface rather wouldn’t have outweighed the selection of another actress. Not the gay community—by masking the identity of Clifton Henderson who sold the movie rights to his life allegedly from his deathbed. There is so little information online about the assistant/nurse/manager it’s hard to dispute or support the theory.

Maybe they’re targeting people who wouldn’t go see the film typically. Perhaps they wanted to woo critics. All I know is as much as I love Saldana as an actress and admire her drive I struggle to justify watching it. I think in the producers’ desire to make Simone more mainstream, they cut off their noses to spite their faces. And put prosthetics in its place.

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