Stir Builds Over Actress to Portray Nina Simone

Posted in Articles, Arts, Communications/Media Studies, New Media, United States, Women on 2012-09-13 04:16Z by Steven

Stir Builds Over Actress to Portray Nina Simone

The New York Times

Tanzina Vega

In the digital age Hollywood casting decisions leaked from behind closed doors can instantly become fodder for public debate. And when the decision involves race and celebrity, the debate can get very heated.

The online media world has been abuzz with criticism for nearly a month now over the news — first reported by The Hollywood Reporter — that the actress Zoe Saldana would be cast as the singer Nina Simone in the forthcoming film “Nina” based on her life.

Few have attacked Ms. Saldana for her virtues as an actress. Instead, much of the reaction has focused on whether Ms. Saldana was cast because she, unlike Simone, is light skinned and therefore a more palatable choice for the Hollywood film than a darker skinned actress.

“Hollywood and the media have a tendency to whitewash and lightwash a lot of stories, particularly when black actresses are concerned,” said Tiffani Jones, the founder of the blog Coffee Rhetoric. Ms. Jones wrote a blog post titled “(Mis)Casting Call: The Erasure of Nina Simone’s Image.”…

…Recently an online petition was circulated to protest the casting of the light-skinned actress Thandie Newton in the film based on Ngozi Adichie’s novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which centers on the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70); there was some criticism of the casting of the biracial Jaqueline Fleming as Harriet Tubman in the film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”…

…Casting an actress who does not look like Simone is troubling, said Yaba Blay, a scholar of African and diaspora studies and the author of a forthcoming book called “(1)ne Drop: Conversations on Skin Color, Race, and Identity.”

“The power of her aesthetics was part of her power,” Dr. Blay said. “This was a woman who prevailed and triumphed despite her aesthetic.” Dark-skinned actresses, she added, are “already erased from the media, especially in the role of the ‘it girl’ or the love interest.”

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