Tell Us the Story of the Afro-Latina

5 Mar

 

 

zoe-saldana-nina-simone

So everyone was all in an uproar about Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone. I have to admit, initially I couldn’t care less. I mean, she is black, and Diana Ross looks nothing like Billie Holiday, but she played the part in Lady Sings The Blues. Beyonce looked nothing like Etta James, but she sang the hell out of her songs in Cadillac Records. Laurence Fishburne and Ike Turner were complete opposites in every physical aspect, but Mr. Fishburne put on one hell of a performance. So what was the big damn deal, about Zoe Saldana, with her brown skin, narrow facial features, and soft hair playing the part of Nina Simone?

Well, when I first heard about this a few years ago, I honestly didn’t now very much about Nina Simone. I knew she was a singer and musician, and I had some idea that she was a civil rights activist, but I didn’t know the depth of her involvement or to what extent it affected her. Then sometime last year I watched the documentary What Happened Miss Simone? and I learned a great deal, about Miss Simone, from Miss Simon herself, as well as her daughter, ex husband, and close friends. The excerpts from her diaries were so emotionally provoking, and I thought at this point who would still want to make a biopic? This is truly a tell-all. If people are still compelled to create a biopic with actors and such, they must base it on this raw documentary.

Now we are seeing the official trailer for Nina and in my opinion, this is not a good look for  anyone involved. As I mentioned before, plenty of actors have played the parts of historical figures that they did not resemble, however Miss Simone’s physical appearance was a huge part of who she was. It is something that cannot be downplayed. Her skin was black as night, her nose was broad, her lips were thick, her jaw protruded forward. Miss Simone was everything that society deemed ugly in African features. However, when she spoke, the woman was so articulate and intelligent that she brought out the beauty in these strong African features. Her voice and her words reminded us that we were the first civilized people. We were the first thinkers and educators. Miss Simone, for a time brought back our ancestors in living form. So much about us has been diluted, but Miss Simone didn’t seem to be at all lacking of what it means to be black.

Yes Zoe Saldana is black too. Yes we are all one people. But, like I said, we have been diluted, and therefore we do not all look like one people. I would have never known Zoe Saldana was Dominican and Puerto Rican if I didn’t read it because she looks like a lot of black girls I grew up with in New York City. If Miss Simone’s appearance was not a part of her story, there would be no need for Miss Saladana to wear black face and a prosthetic nose. But her appearance was a very big deal, and currently there are actresses, of age and of physical likeness that could’ve pulled it off without the use of a team of white makeup artists. Miss Saldana’s makeup is terrible and embarrassing.

I don’t care that she is an Afro-Latina playing the part. That is not the issue. When the idea was first presented, Miss Simone’s daughter objected. That was the red light for everyone involved in the project right there. I realize Miss Saldana is on a mission to prove her blackness, and I applaud her, because so many Afro-Latina’s are unwilling to identify with their blackness. However this was not the avenue to take.

Due to the mixing, and displacement of our people, black people have a million different stories running through their veins. A small percentage of these stories get presented in books, an even smaller percentage is told on film. I would love to see Miss Saldana portray the role of an Afro-Latina. I am not limiting her to that role, but in terms of speaking her truth, I believe she needs to show us that life on screen. I talk about this frequently, my daughter’s father’s family is from the Dominican Republic. I am black, her father and grandfather are dark skinned, so she identifies as black. She only reveals her Hispanic side when she’s asked to be specific about who is from where in her family. She is totally comfortable with who she is, and I am raising her right here in the culturally diverse borough of The Bronx, the same place I was raised, but I know that culturally her story is still different from mine. I don’t know what it means to sit at my mother’s table and eat barbequed chicken, collard greens, baked macaroni & cheese, and cornbread, and several hours later be at my “ti-ti’s house” being offered tres leche cake. I don’t know what kind of code switching she does in her head, because although that side of her family identifies as black, their blackness is different.This story has yet to be told on screen.

We know the slave story and the hood story. Oh my God we know those stories all too well. But tell us about these successful black women who come out of the hood. The ones with these rich diverse cultures. Again I am not limiting Zoe Saldana or any other actress like her to such a role, but she would have been the perfect candidate to portray a story that my daughter or best friend can relate to. The Afro-latina is always being asked to just be African American or just be Latina on screen. She is both, and some of us would like to see that.

I know Miss Saldana must have a deep affection and appreciation for Miss Simone, and she could’ve better honored her by encouraging and backing someone like Uzo Aduba to play the part. Miss Simone was all about her blackness, and I am sure she would’ve appreciated Miss Saldana shedding light on her own blackness in a different way. I was a fan of Zoe Saldana, and still am. There is no hate or shade here. But if I was her homegirl, I would have to steer her in another direction, especially after the final makeup test.

 

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