CC: Here at damnlayoffthebleach we often discuss colorism and for those of you who don’t know what colorism is, I’ll briefly reiterate with a quick (but accurate) quote from about.com —
Definition: Colorism is a practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. In the African-American community, this traditionally played out via the paper bag test. Those lighter than the standard paper lunch bag were allowed entry into fraternities, sororities and other realms of black upper class life, while dark-skinned blacks were excluded. The Spike Lee film “School Daze” is an exploration of colorism.
Examples: Colorism mirrors white supremacy in that those with lighter skin are awarded privileges their dark-skinned counterparts aren’t—strictly based on skin color.
There have been plenty of other bloggers who have snatched weaves and carved shanks over the controversy of a one Ms. Zoe Saldana playing the famous and wonderful singer/songwriter/activist Nina Simone in a biographical film and I’d like to contribute to the growing cry of voices outraged at Hollywood’s blatant disrespect of a legacy to be cherished, worship and treated with the utmost care. Nina Simone was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, not only as a Black woman living in a white supremacist world, but particularly as a LOUD DARK SKINNED BLACK WOMAN in a white supremacist world. She had a voice (and I’m not talking about singing though the woman could SING) that was consistently hushed up and quieted down, stifled and snuffed out. There is a distinct difference between Nina Simone and Zoe Saldana and obviously I’m gonna point these differences out.
Zoe Saldana is Black yes, an afro-latina, but where she is light skinned and thin with features and a physique that cater to whiteness-approved standards, Nina Simone was dark skinned, curvier and obviously possessed more afro-centric features. Nina Simone’s experience as a Black woman growing up in the United States was NOT equivalent to that of Zoe Saldana and not only because of the eras in which the two were raised. Because of colorism, because of how light skinned people such as myself are preferred over people who look like Simone and are granted societal and financial advantages, Zoe Saldana would have been/is relatively privileged over Nina Simone and all those who look like her — this is one of the most highly functional aspects of white supremacy in the world today.
I won’t discuss what I think of Zoe Saldana’s acting abilities because that isn’t the point of this post and because opinions are far too subjective to base an argument off of. The fact is that rather than hire a dark skinned actress with the skin color and features that would have made her a better physical match for the role of Nina Simone, Zoe Saldana was chosen, in a blatant show of light skinned/colorist privilege. Hollywood preferred to have a light skinned Black woman don BLACKFACE than EMPLOY a dark skinned Black woman for a film in which she’d take center stage.
How is Zoe Saldana blackfacing if she herself is Black? Because she is a light skinned woman with relative privilege over her dark skinned counterparts, donning dark skin for a film is blatant disrespect to Black people who are less privileged and who are on lower echelons than she is. She is appropriating and making a mockery of a facet of oppression she does not face. It is disgusting and it says a lot of the society we live in that would enable her and others to continue such behavior. There have been outcries of “reverse colorism” that people would even dare to complain about her being cast for such a role. I’d like to debunk that now. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS REVERSE COLORISM. Light skin is not discriminated against and oppressed on the same institutional level at which dark skin is. Zoe Saldana is not out here being repeatedly degraded and bashed for being light skinned, she and the industry backing her role in Nina Simone’s biopic are being critiqued for their blatant whiteness upholding notions and biases.
There is no discussion to be had about this issue, only action. A petition has been created for Zoe Saldana to be replaced with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone and I’d love it if everyone took the miniscule amount of time to sign. This is NOT just a movie and this is NOT just about casting. This is about the oppressive ideologies that perpetuate a continuously problematic society that HURTS people and DAMAGES THEIR LIVELIHOOD: their ability to function and love themselves properly, their ability to get jobs, their ability to be SAFE in their own environments. This is about the whitewashing of an important DARK SKINNED Black woman’s history. This is one of MANY examples of how dark skinned women (as well as little girls, who are shaped by the media) are denigrated and reminded that they are undesirable and, at best, invisible.
The Grio has also posted up a slideshow of Black women much more suitable for the role of Nina Simone, check it out and support the growing fight against colorism in our media and ultimately, in our world.