In a nutshell, here are my two cents ..
I’m not surprised that a movie is being made about Nina Simone without consulting her family or estate. Not one bit. We know this story all too well: The Help and Untitled Nelson and Winnie Mandela Biopic also moved ahead without consent from the source …
I’m also not surprised that the screenplay for the Nina Simone biopic wasn’t written by a black woman, and thus, per her daughter’s concerns, will use that as license to perpetuate inaccuracies.
And finally, though sadly, I’m not surprised that black women have busied themselves with the question of who will “play” the role of Nina Simone (Zoe Saldana vs. dark-skinned black actresses) rather than focus on the root cause of misrepresentation in Hollywood: the absence of a strong network of black writers, producers, and studios.
This is the only comment I will be making on this issue because it’s always the same story, but even more frustrating, always the same rhetoric about how white people are appropriating our stories. As a community, we’re not doing nearly enough writing to make white people’s overly simplistic, inaccurate, saviorist depictions of our lives irrelevant.
The hard truth is this: if we spent more time creating media instead of criticizing it, there’d be way more diversity in representation, and way more stories and perspectives to which white people can be more frequently held accountable.
Pushing for ownership of both the infrastructure and content that portrays our lived experiences–that is the crux of the issue; not just the politics of light- vs. dark-skinned actresses. So, whereas I am completely on board with calling out the colorism behind the biopic’s casting choices (and the harmful message that’s being sent to young, dark-skinned black girls everywhere by having a light-skinned woman play Nina Simone), there aren’t enough strong lead roles written for women of color in Hollywood for me to fairly tell Zoe Saldana, a hard-working, talented brown woman, to ”sit this one out.”
When will black women, LGBTI, Africans, everyone-that-has-been-screwed-over-by-Hollywood finally get it that we need more autonomy over our media? When will we begin militantly fighting for mainstream media’s accountability to not just the story but the storyteller?
Since I’ve been responding to the harassment, some men listen to what I have to say & even apologize for their behavior. Others become even more obnoxious & vulgar, it depends on the individual. Unfortunately, most of the harassment came from Black men no matter what borough or neighborhood I was in. I also observed in my newly gentrified neighborhood that the white women were not receiving the same sort of harassment from Black men. No one was calling them a bitch or threatening to steal their phones because of not responding to a “hey baby!” It was more like, “Excuse me miss may I walk with you? Would you mind if I got your number?”
Stop the presses, what is going on here?! Are race & color stereotypes influencing how I am harassed too?! I asked around and found that other Black women in the community noticed that the white women did not have to endure the same type of street harassment as they did. And a few light-skinned Black women, depending on just how fair they were, seemed to experience “street harassment lite” as well or none at all. I think this last observation is definitely influenced by the colorism that plagues and divides the Black community. Which means light-skinned Black women are treated with more grace if you will, because historically they have been labeled as more desirable, attractive and delicate than dark-skinned Black women.
The simple act of walking down the street as a Black woman and/or a LGBTQ person in America takes guts, takes, courage, takes heart. My goddess it takes heart & Knowing the truth of who you really are. Even though the “strong Black woman” stereotype creates the idea that Black women lack the vulnerability necessary to be affected by such things. That we can take any abuse in stride, from degrading street harassment to rape & other forms of sexual abuse, because we are that strong. Or that LGBTQ persons somehow deserve to be harassed because folks have warped ideas of our lifestyle, categorizing us as immoral. Thank goodness I have taken the time to measure myself right. I understand that we have been taught to feel shame around our bodies, our sexuality, taught not to speak out when sexually abused or sexually assaulted because nothing would be done. I have taken into account the hills & valleys Black women & LGBTQ people in this country have been through, thanks to the magnificent propaganda campaign against our very image. Although I acknowledge that we live in a world of isms: racism, sexism, colorism, classism, along with homophobia & transphobia that make it that much more difficult to measure us right, its imperative that we do.