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Mad at That Nina Simone Film? Get Over It

The forthcoming biopic of world-renowned songstress Nina Simone has stirred up quite a few sisters. The Cynthia Mort-directed film doesn’t even have a trailer, but has inspired plenty of Facebook posts, articles, blogs, blogs disguised as Facebook posts, open letters and more.

The misguided decision to cast Zoe Saldana in the title role was the first offense but when on-set production images were released of the actress in character with darker skin and a prosthetic nose, most following this debacle went a little apeshit. Recently, while catching up with a good friend I was asked about my thoughts, and I’m telling you, dear reader, the same thing I told her; Take a deep breath, step away from the keyboard, and get over it.

So you don’t agree with Zoe as the lead? I don’t either, for many of the same reasons I see around the web. But there’s pretty much nothing you or I can do to change the film at this point. Simply, once a production begins shooting and contracts are signed, pretty much only an “act of God,” which is an real contractual term, can stop the show unless there is a budget to cover the change. That or Zoe is the secret leader of a terrorist racist militia that we don’t know about, which I doubt. And to be fair, we may never know Saldana’s motives in playing Nina but I do know that she is a beautiful, brilliant actress.

A finished film, like many creative mediums, is at the tip of a thick, business iceberg. What does it take to get a film finished? Investment. And what do investors expect? A return. And like betting, the odds of an investment are based on casting, the director, timing and more. The larger the investment, the more sure companies want their odds. And this is where funky, and at times, desperate and confusing decisions are made because they are based more on the odds of the project being successful than the project being authentic to its original intentions. In some cases, investments are made before a script/idea is fully developed because major names have committed their participation. It’s a common scenario seen often by those of us who work in media, advertising and similar industries and, most times, it makes me want to close my office door, bang my head on the wall while uttering ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck.’ But eventually, I get over it and start again.

Why? Because there is a flip-side to everything. A film, much like a lipstick, is a consumer good. If consumers don’t buy it or purchase tickets to see it, the product, in this case the Nina Simone movie, will not be seen as successful and its odds of being further distributed and/or repeated are very low as it is no longer a safe investment. I suspect the Nina Simone project is not even being marketed to a black audience, a travesty in itself, but no less a possible reality.

Still, plenty of people will buy a ticket to the film because we all love a good train wreck — even if its miscast, unauthorized by Simone’s estate and pretty much historically inaccurate. But no amount of ranting is going to put a dent in the production right now so all of this online hot air is just that. I’m sorry if the bureaucratic reality leaves you feeling huffy but I’ve long since learned that those who fight with a sound strategy fare better than those who use a caps-lock button. Sorry India.

So what now? First, get to know Ava DuVernay and Lauren Velez, the women behind two current film projects that actually need this level of outrage, first because the non-artsy crowd don’t know about their works and second, because people who aren’t aware can’t support their talents. In 2012, DuVernay became the the first African-American to receive the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Award for her amazing film Middle of Nowherewhich is in theaters now and needs your patronage to stay there. Velez is tackling the complex story of Afro-Cuban Latin Soul legend La Lupe, who is regarded on the same level as Tina Turner or even Mary J. Blige within the Latino diaspora. Velez is playing the title role, and she actually looks like La Lupe! Thankfully, Velez made her KickStarter fundraising goal to begin production but there are other independent films that don’t depict men in dresses and need your support through grassroots promotion.

Through this essay I don’t mean to say that weighing in public criticism is pointless, it’s very valuable. But ladies we have to literally put our money where our mouths are by supporting the content creators, studios, and film festivals that tell the authentic narratives of our lives. When we shift en masse, so does the rest of the world because our spending power is strong, even if no one admits it. You’d be surprised what as little as fifty American dollars can do for a indie production, and you’d even still have time to create that protest Tumblr.

 ps. Concerning the Nina Simone film, I’m more upset that Omar Mike Epps is playing Richard Pryor… like, really?

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington

  • Nanz

    Why is it so foreign for Hollywood, even Black Hollywood to cast a dark skinned black woman as the lead role for any movie. When they were casting this movie, where was Viola Davis, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, or a perfect choice “Lauryn Hill” You have got to be kidding me.

  • justbrowsing

    I thought it was Mike Epps, not Omar? hmm that would be odd.

  • Well, one thing most can do is not support the movie. The arrogance to provide a nose and darker skin is pathetic – she was casted only to appease other ethnicies who would not otherwise go see a movie like this. @ Nanz – perhaps we are upset because Nina’s music should not be trivialized – there are several women with beautiful voices, and good looks and have the exact attitud needed to play Nina. So what there are prothestics and face paint, that dont make it right.

  • you are totally right, it’s mike!!!! -SW

  • Sam

    So, there’s no possibility that she was cast because some of the mentioned actresses didn’t audition? Why is it so blasphemous that they used makeup and a prosthetic nose to enhance her appearance? Actors/actresses gain weight, cut their hair, etc… in order to play a role, why is it offensive now? Should there be more representative actresses in Hollywood? Yes, but that doesn’t mean that we should question Zoe Saldana’s legitimacy just because some people feel she wasn’t the best choice.

  • Bc they are so racist that the thought of castingca women who actually looks african would rock your world they picked someone who looked whiter to appease the masses, but racism doesnt exist its all our imagination…right i can assume that you are no blk..how d i know..hmmm?

  • I understand the general concern that dark skin male and female actors, but more often women, have a more difficult time in obtaining major roles in Hollywood productions, but I reject the notion that an actor must be a certain hue of of black to play a certain role.

  • Gill

    When they start casting Halle and Zoe as Jackie Kennedy and Princess Di then maybe it won’t be offensive.

  • mkells

    I’m sure I am late to this discussion, but oh well. Zoe is a great actress- People have no issue with Forrest Whitaker darkening his skin; no issue with Whoopi playing Myrlie Evers, or Angela playing Tina Turner- it’s ACTING people- and she’s a black woman. Why are we sitting up here trying to tear this girl down? Then to come out and say people shouldn’t support the film? Crabs in a barrel!

  • Kelly

    People should NOT support this film. Crabs in a barrel? How about fleas in a jar with the lid on who get such a sense of learned helplessness that when the lid is taken off they still don’t jump out? We need to make it clear that this racist white Hollywood and societal refusal to acknowledge the full humanity and beauty and talent of darker skinned women will not be tolerated! BOYCOTT!!!

  • hakan tan