Zoe Saldana’s Curious Blend Of Arrogance And Accessibility When It Comes To The Media

May 21, 2013  |  

Image Source: WENN.com

From TheGrio

In Zoe Saldana’s recent Allureinterview, the Afro-Latina female actor has once again stated that she is unconcerned with any backlash she receives for playing legendary singer and activist Nina Simone. In a perplexing statement, she compares her controversial casting as “The High Priestess of Soul” to Elizabeth Taylor playing Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII in the 1960s.

“Let me tell you, if Elizabeth Taylor can be Cleopatra, I can be Nina — I’m sorry,” Saldana, 34, said unrepentantly. “It doesn’t matter how much backlash I will get for it. I will honor and respect my black community because that’s who I am.”

Who Saldana is may be clear to her, but her understanding of who Nina Simone was and from where the criticism stems appears to be minimal.

Saldana: Out of touch with African-American audiences?

Contrary to Saldana’s personal beliefs, the vast majority of observers who have weighed in on director Cynthia Mort’s decision to cast Saldana, from India.Arie to Nina Simone’s daughter, Simone Kelly, are black and view it as the ultimate show of disrespect. Not only because it is an aesthetically horrific choice that relies on blackface and prosthetics to pull off, but because Nina’s rich, dark skin, kinky hair and full lips shaped her life’s experiences, subsequently shaping her music.

Nina Simone would not have been able to conjure “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women” from the depths of her soul had she been born with more European features and straighter hair.

Further, it is both fitting and unsettling for Saldana to compare herself to Taylor. Cleopatra, whose black African heritage has been passionately argued for and against, has been described as both “tawny” by Shakespeare and a “negress” in some historical texts. For Saldana to claim that casting the extremely pale Elizabeth Taylor to play her somehow justifies her own misguided role as Nina Simone is a slap in the face of the black community she claims to represent.

Her history of ignoring racial history

And this is not Saldana’s first time brushing off criticism as inconsequential.

“What keeps me focused and what kept me from getting stressed from being hurt by the comments is I’m doing it for my sisters, I’m doing it for my brothers, and I don’t care who tells me I am not this and I am not that. I know who I am, and I know what Nina Simone means to me,” Saldana said in an interview with HipHollywood.com.

“I can only rely on that and maintain as much humility as possible, so that when I have to face the world and we have to then give the movie to the world to see, and share it with them, that if it comes back in . . . a negative fashion or positive, I’m gonna keep my chin up. And Nina was like that too. I did it all out of love for my people and my pride of being a black woman and a Latina woman and an American woman, and that’s my truth.”

Colorist privilege with questionable consequences 

That curious blend of arrogance and accessibility seems to be the root of criticism aimed at Saldana. She is not embracing her community; she is saying through her dismissiveness that how we feel doesn’t matter. By ignoring the hurt of Nina’s family and the pain of black women who have been deemed too dark, too heavy, too ugly to be portrayed on film as anything other than maids, slaves, and whores, Saldana becomes part of the problem.

Read more on TheGrio.com.

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  • Shaun

    They need to leave Zoe alone, she is a great actress. Let her do the role for Pete’s sake! I hate when folks do this ‘colorism’ -‘you’re not black enough’ nonsense! Black is black.

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  • SMHgurl24

    I really don’t understand people, if you have such a hard time with it why don’t you petition those in charge (the producers)?! Zoes doing what any rational person would do by defending herself and choices, how is she a arrogant person for that? If you want to see change, go to the top not the bottom because like it or not if she wasn’t playing Nina, you d*** sure know another light skinned “black” female would. Complaining and not doing a thing about it makes people look pathetic.

  • Atin

    I honestly don’t see what the big deal is….. Sometimes I feel like the black community tries to make something out of nothing… It’s not like she’s a white woman playing a black women. It’s a movie. If the movie will portray Nina Simone’s life, career, personality, etc accurately, then what does the race of Zoe Saldana has to do with anything? I think what we should be concerned about is that Nina Simone’s core is well represented in the movie, not who plays the role.

  • Candacey Doris

    I’ve left off watching her press releases. She isn’t any good on them and can’t say to get her meaning across at all. Even if you know what she’s trying to say you can flinch because of how she says it. Girl needs a better team to work on what she says. My only prob with her playing Nina Simone is that the family doesn’t seem to want her. I have no problem with ehr darkening her skin for the role. She’s and Afrolatina and a good actress. Not like Nina but she won’t be the first to look nothing like the person she’s playing. And actresses lighten their skin everyday to play roles that don’t really require it. So she can keep on keeping on.

  • scandalous7

    problem is Zoe doesnt get it all the way, she not really about that life.

  • FromUR2UB

    I’m getting a different interpretation from the Liz Taylor comment. It seems that people are hearing her compare herself to Liz Taylor as though she too, is white. What I got from that is her posing the question: if a white woman can play a black woman, then why can’t a black latina, play a black woman?. That part makes perfect sense to me. However, the problems I had with her in the role is that an actor has to be particularly strong in her craft, to be convincing as a person whom she doesn’t resemble. I think she’s a proficient actress, but I haven’t yet seen her in the role that has made me say she’s a great actress. Also, I like to see a musician play a musician. Otherwise it’s just someone faking it and it usually comes across hollow. Angela Bassett is an example of someone who pulled it off…made viewers believe she was Tina Turner. One thing I know that Zoe Saldana and Nina Simone have in common is their relationships with white men. Maybe Saldana felt a connection with her because of that.

    • Thaalia

      Thing is, the scholars cant agree on whether Cleopatra was mainly Nubian, Egyptian or Greek. She came from the Ptolemy bloodline so she was probably highly mixed. (some think there was a chance she was lighter because accounts dont reference her skin color, race and ethnicity were different concepts back then) Anyway nerd moment over, I feel the comment about Liz Taylor playing Cleopatra is just a surface level statement to get people to agree with her. You’re going to compare the casting of a white woman in the 1960’s when most actors were white to the 2000’s where people of color have a better representation (not the best but better). She’s just saying that to justify her cause.

      Shes probably not going to be one of the ‘greats’ but shes not crazy, having something like a biopic under her acting belt gives her some cred and shes not passing it up for anyone. It business and she should just admit it.

  • Bits

    i disagree with the part of the article that says, ‘Nina Simone would not have been able to conjure “Mississippi Goddam” and “Four Women” from the depths of her soul had she been born with more European features and straighter hair’. Billie Holiday was able to capture the painful reality of ‘strange fruit’ and she was what would called ‘light skin’ in the black community. the black experience is not only unique to darker skin members of our community.

    • DianaDT

      But Nina’s story is…..

      • Bits

        of course it is. my issue was with that one part of the article. Nina’s struggles as a dark skin black woman…now thats whole other issue.

  • Psst….hey Kimye can y’all have that baby already so we can stop talking about Nina Simone and Zoe on this site please. Pretty please.

  • Well d*amn its like the author took all of my arguments from the other article and wrote this.

    Its true . . . .

  • Real Truths

    Zoe knows damn well what she’s saying. The problem is Zoe is a sellout plain and simple. Just another opportunistic “black” who’ll gladly jump on the black bandwagon and jump off when it suits her. She’s not speaking to black people in the U.S., she’s speaking to all the white people here who want to see her confront and be dismissive towards any criticism we have about her about issues black people care about. The more she does it she figures, the more spotlight for her and thus more opportunity to distance herself from us. Black people from Africa, and the islands without our experiences say and do the same thing thinking ingratiating themselves will get them further. Case in point…Mitt Romney when he came to the NAACP to speak last year. It wasn’t about getting black people to consider voting Republican it was about showing his white constituents he’s willing to go into “the belly of the beast” and say incendiary things that many of them believe (gets them extra points). Anyone black who speaks to talented black actresses not getting roles, and allowing them to typecast whoever they want and we’re supposed to remain silent (guess it makes you racist or a “bully” to point that out). It’s racial politics pure and simple…someone is encouraging her to do it. But just wait, soon enough she’ll be stale and see who she’ll be crawling back trying to curry favor with. Tiger, OJ, Mariah and etc. The pendulum always swings the other direction sooner or later.

    • SAM

      I agree with you completely…

      Especially when you said/wrote, and I quote, ‘Black people from Africa, and the islands without our experiences say and do the same thing thinking ingratiating themselves will get them further’.

      I have come across many ‘Black’ Caribbean/West-Indians, in particular, who do exactly that. – “I’m not ‘African-American’, I’m Jamican/Bajan/Trinidadian/Antiguan/Grenadan/St. Lucian/Bahamian” they have said to me in the past, as if stating that they are not of the ‘African-American’ ethnicity, whilst still being ‘Black’, will push them further from the ‘Black-American’ experience.


      However, with ‘African’s’, I think it is a different story overall. Many Native-Africans, especially those from the Black-African diaspora in the West, East and South regions of the continent, are very proud to ‘African’ and will forever state it – they hardly ever distance themselves from their culture when entwined with Western society.

      • Real Truths

        Quite true Sam. I’m not calling any one group out more than others because we have plenty of blacks who love to tell themselves they aren’t black either. What gets me as a whole are people who take advantage of the struggles and sacrifices our people made in this country to make it what it is today and pay it no mind. They love to talk how they aren’t us, but if it weren’t for our ancestors they’d still be stuck in whatever part of the world the white man dropped them off at. For example, the CBC arguing to keep the diversity lottery that benefits those of African descent (they were trying to eliminate that). Yet at the same side when do they squad up for us? I think a lot of people want to think the white man is brand new and none of this is relevant anymore and I know that’s not true. I didn’t mean to imply they’re all like that. There’s been plenty of revolutionary peoples from Garvey, Bookman, Sankara, Winnie Mandela, Lumumba and etc. to name a few. I don’t expect devotion or for them to forget where they come from, but at least lend a hand. I bet they don’t have a problem benefiting from any programs designed to help out black people (AA as it was intended) here when it benefits them but then throw shade at us at the same time…that’s what gets me.

      • Candacey Doris

        Not true. When someone from the Caribbean says that they are not black its because they identify culturally more than racially. When i meet another Guyanese person i am happy to see them and we laugh it up no matter what race they are. We don’t forget our race but that’s not as important when you’re in another place and surrounded culturally. You want to be able to hold on to a part of yourself that feels like its under assault every day by a culture that isn’t much like yours. It’s not pandering its a very real need to be yourself. And we’re not throwing shade at african american culture (usually, not going to lie) we just always see the differences. Since my brothers and i grew up here we can see those differences a lot. They can be big.

    • Guest

      You’re right on the money with this one!! She is like so many people in the industry who are obviously black with a little mixture thrown in there. They are black only when it is convenient and suits their needs. Mostly they have little to nothing to do with the black community. Hopefully she’ll wake up and get it one day as well as some of her other mixed brother’s and sisters who look like chocolate citizens but somehow feel they’re not!!!

  • Blu

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but I don’t really have a huge problem with her playing Nina Simone. The woman is an actress, her job is to transform herself into different people. I’m not gonna be upset with her because she got a role that other people believe should have gone to someone else. That being said, she probably wouldn’t have been my first choice either, simply because she doesn’t resemble Nina Simone, but I’ll wait until I see the film before I pass any judgements. I’m sure any actress would have been incredibly proud to get this role, and It’s seem that Ms Saldana feels the same way. I’m with her on the not focusing on the criticism. Why should she care what anyone has to say, she’s just doing her job.

    • DianaDT

      I think her attitude( or responses) are what is more disturbing. She clearly does not understand or at least communicate the essence of the argument. I agree with you that she is doing her job…and she is treating it just like a job and not a story, as many actors approach such serious roles, transforming themselves by which ever method of action they choose. Nevertheless, I agree she may be receiving some unfair criticism as the real problem is with the director, producers and casting who seemed to care about “Star power” and “box office draw” over real storytelling.


    Personally speaking, I do not think that Zoe Saldana is ‘out-of-touch’ with African-American audiences. The only thing that hinders Zoe from ‘truly connecting’ with us African-Americans is her ethnicity – she is a ‘Black woman’, racially-speaking, but she is also a ‘Latino’ woman, of whom is also mixed with ‘White/Spanish’, as the majority of Dominican Republicans are.

    If someone is going to play Nina Simone, why didn’t the producers opt to find a ‘Dark-Skinned, African-American Woman’ to play her, what made them think that it would be appropriate to have a ‘Lighter-Skinned, African-Latino’ to play her instead?

    By all means, yes, Black people come in two dominant complexions; light & dark, with various tones and shades in between and, pheno-typically speaking, our features are vary from the ‘biggest and boldest’ to the ‘smallest and finest’ but Nina and Zoe DO NOT look alike, and DO NOT share the same ethnicity in any way, shape or form, the only thing that brings them together is their African-Ancestry – was this the excuse of these Hollywood executives?

    As for her comparison to ‘Cleopatra’ and Liz Taylor’ – she definitely worded herself wrong there – nonetheless, that situation was nothing but good old’-fashioned Hollywood/White American racism at it’s best. Why they chose a ‘White, English/British’ woman to portray a ‘Black, North-African’ Queen is beyond me.

    • Exactly! And why are people mad at her for auditioning instead of being Mad at casting for selecting her?

    • DianaDT

      I agree, I think what people are sensing the most is the misconnection of the African-American cultural experience. It is a difference from just being black. My father was Jamaican and I clearly got to see both sides of the story from experience.

  • kittymabach

    ugh im starting not to like her

    • realadulttalk

      Come join me then…I never liked her. Lol

  • Will

    it’s too bad lauren hill lost herself….she could not only play nina, but actually sing too.

    my 2nd choice would have been UK singer, Estelle.
    or, find a newcomer out there to make a star.

    • DaisyDuke

      I absolutely agree. Lauryn missed out on the role of a lifetime for her.

  • AfroCubanGurl

    I did not want her to play Nichelle Nichols role as Uhura in Star Trek either she looks nothing like Uhura. White Latino people don’t want her in their movies either they president of Colombia went so far as to say she can not represent us only the black Colombians from slavery on the caribbean coast. I don’t like her one bit. And if you watched Blacks in Latin America you would know that black Dominicans worship white skin they are nothing like the Afro Cubans who love and honor their ancestors.

    • Will

      well, Colombians are racist people period…so, I’m sure Zoe is not sweating what their leader has to say. And, white latinos don’t have any power in Hollywood, so she’s probably not sweating them either. she keeps landing big roles, Star Trek, Avatar, etc..tho’.

      • starlet russe

        white people dont have power? how about cameron diaz? shes a white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes but she is cuban

    • SAM

      I agree with you, somewhat…

      The ‘White Spaniards’, and ‘White society’ as a whole, have done a fantastic job in leaving the legacy of ‘White supremacy’ amongst the Dominican Republicans and upon the rest of the world.

      The majority of the Island may be of 80% mixed heritage (African & European) but, even within that, the issue of ‘colorism’ is extremely rife.

      Which is why they tend to believe that they are, somehow, superior to that of their dear neigbours, the ‘Haitians’ of whom are of 95%, full-blooded, Black-African origin.

      I commend the ‘Afro-Cubans’ of whom are proud of their African ancestry as are the many other ‘Latin/South Americans’ who feel the same.

  • DaisyDuke

    I think i understand the points Zoe tries to make, the problem is, she says them all wrong. Her wording is what tends to throw me off and her history of comments can point out contradictions. Maybe she should rehearse answers. Hell, lots of celebrities do for press junkets.

    As for the Nina Simone movie, I still think the biggest concern for me is the fact that 1) this is an unauthorized account of Nina’s life and 2) when Nina’s family offered to assist with the project, they were denied. That, for me, is why I am not eager to see the movie. Had those two things been in line, THEN i would be concerned about the casting choice (which probably wouldn’t have been Zoe.)

    I still like Zoe, I just wish she would be clear and consistent with what she has to say.

    • DianaDT

      Good points. I think she is unclear in the interviews as you say because she is unclear of the situation as a whole. I have liked her most of the movies I have seen her in but as of late I think I have been watching too many interviews of her. My opinion of her has lessened of late…I gave her too much credit. I kind of feel for her and these personal attacks because in all honestly it’s not her fault.