Nina Simone, the “High Priestess of Soul,” lived a very unique life. The famed singer not only played classical music, jazz, and blues, but was very active within the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s and had many famous songs influenced by that period of American History including the following: “Mississippi Goddam” in response to the assassination of Medgar Evers, “Why” in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and “Young, Gifted, and Black.” Nina Simone was “unapologetically black,” and helped capture the hearts of millions. She was also known for her volatile temper and possible clinical depression, documented well in the film What Happened, Miss Simone? on Netflix. She did manage to have a great and rich legacy for her music and her activism. So it’s no surprise that she would be ripe for a Hollywood biopic.
When it was announced that there would be a biopic for her and that actress Zoe Saldana (of Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, and Avatar fame) would play her, it did raise some eyebrows. One reason had to be colorism. Nina Simone was very proud of her dark skin tone, and when they cast an actress who was noticeably lighter in skin tone, it caused some to view this as a subliminal form of “white-washing” for the sake of the film. When set photos, and finally the trailer were released it only made matters worse.
This is problematic because this seems like a new form of blackface, only in this instance a person of color was “darkened up” to be more like the original person they were portraying. Many have taken to social media to protest what they considered to be offensive casting. It comes across as insulting because not only is it blackface, but it’s grossly cheap looking, and Nina Simone deserves much more respect than such a tacky attempt of her portrayal. She took pride in her dark skin and wide nose, only to have the actress portray her with an almost clown-like makeup mask.
This could have been better done because there are actress that look more the part and could play the role.
Viola Davis is doing an exceptional job on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder and recently was the first African-American woman to win an Emmy award. She has been nominated for Oscar awards for her roles in Doubt and The Help and completely throws herself into a role. Given how strong she is on How to Get Away with Murder, she would do a great job showing Nina Simone’s anguish.
Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black would also be a great choice. Not only has she won multiple Emmy and SAG awards for her role, but she is an exceptional singer. One of the biggest surprises from NBC’s The Wiz Live was her turn as Glenda the Good Witch of the South when she performed live. This would be a great opportunity, if only to see her sing Nina Simone songs.
“Michonne” from The Walking Dead not only is a great actress, but she also has acted in many roles on an off-Broadway production. In addition to hacking up zombies, she wrote the play Eclipsed, which also stars actress Lupita Nyong’o, and just debuted off-Broadway, and will be seen in the upcoming All Eyez on Me Tupac biopic. Speaking of Lupita….
Her star continues to shine. After breaking out in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita has had steady work. Not only was she in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the upcoming Star Wars Episode 8 film, but she will be in The Jungle Book and Queen of Katwe. She is another that could have been a strong contender for Nina Simone.
Lauryn Hill/India Arie
Both Lauryn Hill and India Arie great soul singers who were heavily influenced by Nina Simone. Lauryn Hill does have a few small acting roles including soap opera acting and appearing in the Sister Act films. India Arie actually played Nina Simone on the NBC television show American Dreams already. Both of them a great singers and could do a great job actually singing her songs if needed.