Colorism in Nina Simone Movie: Is It Always Just About Skin Tone?


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.

9 thoughts on “Colorism in Nina Simone Movie: Is It Always Just About Skin Tone?”

  1. I think you might be off.

    I think Zoe got the part because she was a safe bet. She is dark enough to pass as black but white enough to be accepted by a white audience. Best of both worlds.

    However, racism steps in when you look at Nina Simone’s actual appearance. Nina SImone has stereotypical African features which as we know are not acceptable in Hollywood, at least not for this kind of role.

    Look at a movie like The Help, the lead black women had what I’d consider Stereotypical African features. That was no biggy since they were playing MAIDS.

    A role like this where essentially people will have to buy not only into Nina Simone’s beautiful voice, but beauty as well COULD only go to someone that WHITENESS considers beautiful, even though let us be honest, they wouldn’t consider Nina to be beautiful in terms of appearance.

    That’s my take.


    1. i hear what you are saying, but it’s so hard for me to understand WHY people keep saying “stereotypical african features,” what are you referring to specifically?


      1. Peanut, I know this issue strikes close to your heart but after reading your reaction to this story and seeing out right denial, I think somewhere deep down, you might actually have some deep rooted self-hate issues. Either that or I have things completely wrong, so please don’t take offense.

        Stereotypical because that is how Africans come across in the European mind. Africans are not European, Africans are africans. It is diverse, having people with a wide array of different physical appearances but to me it seems you are trying to distance yourself from one aspect of it that is real. Some africans have “HEAVY” features. They have flat noses, plump lips and some women are thick in appearance. The europeans have turned this into something negative and am thinking you are fighting it by denying it exists.

        Some people actually fit that description, a lot and Nina is one of those. She had a beautiful voice, marvelously talented but you can’t take away her Africanness from her. By casting ZOE instead of someone with those natural african looks that NINA possessed, they are essentially committing a racial crime because this is something done by design.


  2. @ Peanut,

    I’ve had a while to think about my last comment and I’d like to retract it. I hope you didn’t take offense to it.

    We both agree Saldano is not right for the role, we just have different reasons. You might be right about her skin tone in all fairness. I might be seeing racism where there is none.


    1. it’s alright, you are entitled to your opinion. Yes I don’t believe she is right for the role, I do think racism plays a role,but I just disagree with people saying Saldana is light skinned when to me she’s the same color as Blige and many other BLack people. I dislike the way they recycle the same black actresses again and again though and i think they like saldana because she’s an afro-latina and in their (white hollywood and society’s) minds that makes her “safe”


      1. OK.

        On a different, off-topic note, can you write more about your work/life situation?

        I am curious to know how you tackle being out of work. What about responsibilities that require money and such? What about “Making it”, “Persevering”, “Enduring”, “Chasing the American Dream” etc? I think it’s very brave you said NO to essentially being abused but am curious to know how you carry this forward.

        Just asking.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s