I know I’m a little late on this one, but I have to comment after reading a blog post by abagond about the controversy surrounding the fact that Saldana has been cast for the upcoming film about the sultry, beautiful Jazz Singer Nina Simone.
Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t believe Saldana is the right person to play Nina Simone, but I disagree with people who are calling the woman “light-skinned.” I am well aware that Saldana has received the “white stamp of approval,” and she has become the Halle Berry stand-in, who is recycled again and again in every movie where a character for a Black woman is written. BUT, since when has Zoe Saldana been light-skinned? If they had cast someone like Thandie Newton or Alicia Keys, that would be light-skinned. But, Saldana…I don’t believe so. I notice whenever a Black woman is demeed acceptable by the masses people (read:white), her skin color label tends to change. I recall one incident where I was talking with a white male friend and the white guy casually referred to Whitney Houston as light-skinned. I was SHOCKED to hear him refer to Houston as light-skinned because, in my opinion, she was far from being such and I , and several other Black woman, told him so. She was clearly a chocolate-skinned Black woman. I wondered if he chose to refer to her as “light-skinned,” because in his mind, lightness was equated with goodness and success, while darkness was equated with failure and badness.
In this racist society, success is equated with acceptance into white society (although it shouldn’t be) so I think that the more a Black person is accepted into white society, the more likely they are to be labeled “light-skinned,” even when they are clearly not. This is because racism creates an allusion where for something to be considered “Valuable,” it has to be seen through a lens of whiteness.
This system of classist colorism is reminiscent of the “honorary white,” status that was given to people of color, including some Blacks, in places like South Africa and Brazil. Basically, once a Black person ascended the social ranks or if a black person had acccumulated wealth and status, they were considered “a person of value,” and thus could be labeled an “honorary white or honorary light-skinned person.” Even if the person was clearly dark-skinned, they could be labeled as an honorary white or honorary light. This goes back to the racist mentality that lightness represents goodness and purity, while darkness represents immorality.
I wonder if this has something to do with people now labeling Saldana as light-skinned. But, BUT to change gears, I know Hollywood is racist, so is it possible they picked Saldana because she appeals to white people because she a so-called “Acceptable negro,” or an “honorary white?” Is it because she’s an Afro-Latina and thus “different enough,” not to offend the average White-American movie- goer? I definitely see racism has played a part, but it’s not because Saldana is light-skinned because she’s not to me. She is about the same color as Taraji P. Henson, yet Henson doesn’t seem able to crossover as well into mainstream (read white) Hollywood as Saldana does. If Henson could cross over, would people start calling her “light-skinned,” too?
I think colorism and racism are big problems in Hollywood, but to me there are different kinds of colorism. There is blatant colorism where you outright reject brown and darker skinned Black women and there’s classist colorism, where upon becoming accepted by whites, the “color status,” of the Black person in question changes. BOTH of them fit into the racist mentality that light is good, dark is bad. Whether you change how you label your skin color once you achieve success or you outright reject someone based on color, it’s still colorism.
So, with all that rubbish that I’ve written, I have to say no Saldana isn’t fitting to portray Simone, but not because she is a so-called light-skinned black woman because she’s NOT light-skinned… She’s just not right for the part. I think Kimberly Elise or India Arie, if she could act, would be likely candidates for the role. But, my personal favorite who I feel would be great for the role of Simone would be Anika Noni Rose. She can sing and act very well.
But these are just my thoughts, I could be completely off on this one. I don’t know ya’ll.