By: Kymberli Moore
I’m carrying the ancestors in my spirit right now. I’m feeling for the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. I reflect on her words, her passion, her legend. Here we are, a week after the release of the much anticipated trailer for the “Nina” biopic and the backlash or the blackface for that matter is epic. In 2010, with all the trained and natural black actresses that were available, the original choice was Mary J. Blige. We were not mad.
For whatever reason in 2012 the finalized decision was Afro-Dominican actress, Zoe Saldana and from 2012 till now we have been vexed about this casting. If the opinions posted on social media was the system used to measure one’s worth in entertainment, anyone involved with this project would have their entire identities wiped clean, new passports and relocation to the other side of the earth would ensue.
Unfortunately, while the melanin-less production staff ( with exception of David Oyelowo) is probably having Rodeo Drive lunches discussing their next project, Zoe is left defenseless like a pair of stained panties that have leapt from the laundry basket on the way to the laundromat. The backlash of the perhaps not black enough actress portraying or betraying one of our most beloved legends comes days just after one of Hollywood’s biggest white washed flops “ The Gods of Egypt”.
Maybe the black community is too far removed for our souls to remember our glorious days in African kingdoms and empires that influenced the world, to be incessantly infuriated over that casting but our issue with colorism amongst us is relevant, right now and it’s hurting our collective spirit. So I pose this question: Can we really expect the happy-to-whitewash-anyone’s-history-hollywood, to respect our identities, when we have such issues with colorism ourselves?
Years ago I checked out. I pulled away from TV and limited the minutes I would engage in morning radio. This comes from someone who wouldn’t work certain nights due to the priorities of my TV schedule. Girlfriends was canceled and anything else left that remotely favored me moved to channels I was not willing to pay for.
Primetime TV and it’s award shows suddenly lacked black gold, again. Eventually some of our big screen stars such as Kerry Washington and Viola Davis trended back to tv along with many others, light and dark skinned alike who found it almost impossible to hone their craft in movies.
Even with all their accolades and recognition, that beautiful black gold permeating from tv screens as we looked on with pride, does not eradicate their struggle with the Beast of Hollywood. That brings us back to Zoe and our issues with colorism that cannot be fixed outside of the black communities. This issue reaches from the Americas to Africa and include the quietly kept indigenous tribes of highly melanted peoples in popular countries like India, Greece and the Philippines.
Though the measure of how light or dark any one individual falls on the color spectrum is not exclusive to the black community, it is our fight that is broadcast and is used as a tool to ridicule and divide us. Remember when Mama used to say to keep your business out of the streets? Now please over and innerstand me, before I continue.
No one or no entity can pay me to degrade or bash black women, so this is not a bash session. Yes I would have loved to have seen Viola Davis take this role with all her audacity and natural godly self . She would have propelled the legend and the spirit of black women everywhere into higher dimensions but I am not opposed to Zoe either. Who wouldn’t want to take on the role of one of the most charismatic and awe inspiring melanated beings to ever descend to earth?
This also has to be one of the most intimidating roles to take on, perhaps Nina was who Meryl Streep secretly wanted to portray when she said “ultimately we are all from Africa”. Truthfully we are outside of the hollywood fold so we don’t know why a more relatable actress wasn’t chosen or whether our choices were even available.
For us to collectively criticize Zoe with such indignation as if she opened the seventh seal to hell, calls for a higher observance of our intentions and priorities. Truthfully, would we have been more satisfied if they placed just any highly melenated sister in the role,even if she couldn’t act? I’ve seen some of the suggestions in many blogs and articles. No disrespect at all but Leslie Jones really? She’s already facing criticism for her seemingly stereotypical role in the Ghostbusters reboot now. I’ve even seen the suggestion of Jill Scott, which leads me to believe that we may also just have a personal problem with Zoe Saldana that she is unaware of, due to her living her own life and tending to her own business.
To be honest with you, our issues with the color spectrum within our ethnicity hurts my soul. I have to admit, though I don’t usually give thought to my comparison to a paper bag, I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle, like Regina King or Janelle Monae. I don’t know what it feels like to be called “pretty for a dark girl” or to be the “it light skinned girl”. I have looked at other black women and found something beautiful about each of us, but judging her character or measuring her beauty by her complexion, absolutely not.
I’m sitting here writing, with Nina singing Fodder on my Wings on repeat, wondering what would THE high priestess think. I love to watch the “Blackness” video on Youtube where she talks about how beautiful is our BLACKNESS and how proud she is to be just that. Oh what a beautifully complicated soul she is, for the soul never ceases to exist, but never did I hear or read that she put value on just how dark or light anyone was as a measure to just how black you were. Our blackness, our melanin, our heritage and our ancestors, we carry all of that with us in our spirits.
This morning I watched as Zoe tried to defend her decision to portray someone who meant the world to her as well. I truly felt compassion and even sadness for her. Some say her ego wouldn’t let her walk away from this betrayal of Nina. I say how many of us are walking off of jobs because of principles. They say the blackface was the ultimate humiliation. Is that how many of us feel when we cake on layer after layer covering our natural complexion as we leave home to fit into the world?
Nina spoke of how after the civil rights movement was disbanded, how she felt left all alone and exhausted, after sacrificing so much and exerting so much energy towards the upliftment of her people. Left without defense like Jada after the Chris Rock Oscar’s joke or her call to reevaluate our approach and expectations of acceptance. Like Zoe is now, while the production staff of this biopic is planning their next projects. The feeling is familiar as many of us can become discouraged while we defend and uplift our men and children without sufficient support or defense.
Should we have been more concerned that there are certain untruths told in this depiction or that her family was never consulted? Is it fair to harshly criticize the actor or actress, meanwhile most of our biopics are not even written and produced by us? Had any of us thought about the burden or responsibility that many of our melanated actresses carry when trying to represent us in the white washed Hollywood and eat at the same time?
Afterall, the same white supremacy that many of us battle day to day uses Hollywood as a vehicle to rewrite history and to secure that their image is on the right side of history, regardless of the truth. Our issues of colorism couldn’t be further from their concern.
Somehow in my honest opinion, I think in a boardroom somewhere when the decisions not to cast black women leads in possible blockbusters is made, there is sneaky laughter and the jokes on us. Well ladies, this joke hurts. In a time where at any moment any of us could be accosted and killed simply because we are black and breathing, in a time where water with animal excrement in third world nations is safer than water in some American cities, I cannot see myself consciously telling any of you that you are not black enough to experience life as I do, or to express yourself in any matter, because you are too fair skinned or too dark.
Some say we should vote because of the sacrifices of our ancestors, but what about uniting in love and self acceptance because of the sacrifices they made? Perhaps we can encourage the younger generation to be the writers and the filmmakers to record and depict our image and history with integrity and passion.
With so many battles to fight in this soul consuming war, this is a battle that needs to find it’s end. The greatest way to honor our ancestors is to know and love thyselves, to look within to find our answers. Unify under that umbrella and we will suddenly find the legs which white supremacy stands on, kicked from under it.
Light a candle for Nina and thank her for her timeless works that will impact generations to come. Light one for Zoe Saldana and like sisters who fight this war from where they stand whether you favor them or not. Light one for you as well. We will all need it. Peace and Light.