‘Nina’ distributor Robert L. Johnson compares blackface controversy to slavery


Earlier this month, the Zoe Saldana-starring Nina Simone film, Nina, finally got a trailer. Nina was filmed all the way back in 2012, and it’s been sitting on some shelf in a dark corner, with many people wondering if it should ever be released. But it’s being released, and it’s coming out next month. The press tour is going to be… unpleasant. Because, you see, Zoe Saldana wore blackface to play Nina Simone. There’s not hedging on that – it wasn’t just “makeup” or “an attempt to blend prosthetics.” Zoe wore blackface to make her light skin look more similar to the real Nina Simone’s dark skin tone. Zoe also wore a prosthetic nose.

After the trailer came out and people got their first big look at this film, there was a lot of outrage and a lot of shade, not only for Zoe, but for everyone involved with this project. The Nina Simone estate (or whoever runs the estate’s Twitter) clapped back at Zoe, but Nina’s daughter basically said that people shouldn’t be attacking Zoe personally, that the whole film is a mess and there’s enough blame to go around. While the film was produced by a British studio (Ealing Studios), it’s being distributed by RLJ Entertainment in America. RLJ Entertainment’s founder and chair is Robert L. Johnson, primarily known as the founder of BET. Johnson spoke to The Hollywood Reporter this week about the Nina controversy, blackface and more. His comments are pretty problematic too. Some highlights:

The blackface complaints: “It’s unfortunate that African-Americans are talking about this in a way that hearkens back to how we were treated when we were slaves. The slave masters separated light-skinned blacks from dark-skinned blacks, and some of that social DNA still exists today among many black people.”

Present day colorism: “That’s where some of this comes from, when you hear people saying that a light-skinned woman can’t play a dark-skinned woman when they’re both clearly of African descent. To say that if I’m gonna cast a movie, I’ve gotta hold a brown paper bag up to the actresses and say, ‘Oh sorry, you can’t play her.’ Who’s to decide when you’re black enough? As an African-American, I will gladly engage anyone on this question of should we be talking about how light or how dark you should be to play a role. Many people who are talking about it don’t even realize what they’re getting into. Imagine if I were to do a biopic about Lena Horne, who’s obviously light-skinned, or Dorothy Dandridge. Would it be fair if I put up a sign that said ‘No black women apply’? That would be ridiculous. Black Americans should know better than to have this discussion over a creative project. We’re not talking about white against black. We’re talking about black against black.”

Just watch the movie: “Make the judgment on the talent of the actors, make the judgment on the writing, but don’t make it on whether or not Zoe Saldana is as black as Nina. You can always say, ‘Gee, I can find somebody who’s blacker.’ Let’s talk about [the film] in terms of giving talented African-Americans a chance to play roles that they’re qualified to play.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

There are two different arguments that this film’s critics are making, and Johnson is sort of conflating those arguments. Let me tell you how I see it. One, there is the colorism argument, which is that Zoe was always too light-skinned to play the dark-skinned Nina, whose identity was not only wrapped up in being an African-American woman, but in being a dark-skinned African-American woman who faced years of rejection for NOT looking like the beautiful and light-skinned Dorothy Dandridge or Lena Horne. The colorism argument says that a light-skinned woman will never be able to capture that essential part of Nina’s story, that of the prejudice she felt within the white community and the black community for her darker skin.

The second argument is “WHY BLACKFACE????” If Johnson is going out there, claiming that black folks are making the same arguments that were made during slavery, then why was it ever necessary for Zoe to wear blackface? If African-American women are the same regardless of the lightness or darkness of their skin, full-stop, then why didn’t Zoe just play the role with her natural skin color? There still would have been criticism – justified criticism, because of Argument #1 – but it would not have been nearly as offensive as it is now.

Also – certified genius Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an absolutely wonderful piece about all of this – go here to read.


Screencaps courtesy of the trailer.

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66 Responses to “‘Nina’ distributor Robert L. Johnson compares blackface controversy to slavery”

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  1. Div says:

    This whole thing is a mess, although I’m with Nina Simone’s daughter and think people need to step off of Zoe…it’s not like she’s some powerful A lister who got this project going… Look at the producers and directors who okay’d this mess.

    Also, people would have still been pissed off but a lot of the controversy would have gone away if they simply hadn’t put dark make up on her. The makeup hearkens back to blackface because it is blackface, even if she is Afro-Latina, and emphasizes the issue of colorism which was a big deal in relation to Nina Simone.

    • V4Real says:

      Doesn’t this man remember that there was a biopic of Dorothy Dandridge played by Halle Berry. A biopic was also done of another light-skinned Black icon Josephine Baker played by Lynn Whitfield. Berry and Whitfield didn’t drastically change the color of their skin tones to portray these women. Hollywood just went with two lighter skinned Black actresses to play the part. They could have went with a darker skinned Black actress to play Nina.

      Zoe is Afro-Latina and she does say she is Black. And if she say she is Black then she is. But there are some Latinos with Zoe’s exact same make-up who say they are not Black and that they are just Latino or Dominican and would be offended if you called them Afro-Latino or Black.
      But I don’t think the main issue is her being Afro-Latino. The main issue is the Blackface. I know some people on other posts said why couldn’t she just play the part without the make-up. Angela Bassett didn’t look like Tina Turner or Denzel didn’t look like Malcolm X. It worked for them but that wouldn’t work for Zoe because the main characteristic of Nina was about her dark skin. If Zoe play the part as she is how can the movie make the point about her darkness if the actress is light skinned. It just wouldn’t work.

      And to play devil’s advocate. If a Black woman’s skin shouldn’t be darken to play a dark skinned woman how do you feel about a Black woman’s skin being lighten to play and even lighter skinned Black woman? They actually lighten Halle Berry’s skin in order to play the role of Queen, a bi-racial Black woman during slavery that could pass for White.

      • Gina says:

        Is anyone else scratching their head at Zoe Saldana being described as ‘light skinned?’ It’s one thing to say she’s lighter than Nina, but saying she’s ‘light skinned,’ period is odd. Light skinned is Rosie Perez or Tisha Campbell or Klay Thompson or Steph Curry. Zoe is like medium brown skinned.

        That said. I don’t like ‘black face,’ being used to describe this whole mess, because we are speaking of someone who, I guess, ID’s as a black woman or an Afro Latina.

        What I will call it, is what it is: BAD CASTING.

        Robert L Johnson should have known better. He went for a sexy marketable to the masses actress to play Nina Simone, when NOT being THAT, was a large part of why Nina’s career trajectory, her self-image, her pathologies, and personal relationships were, what they were because she didn’t fit that mold or expectation. So what’s the first thing the clueless Johnson and cohorts on this film do?? Why they deprive some other current day nameless faceless struggling artist ‘Nina,’ of opportunities, and squander/neglect her talent, much in the same way the real Nina’s was. The irony is deep and profound and sad.

        Lastly, and this is the most important part. It’s really not about how Zoe sees herself. It’s great she has connection and pride to her sub Saharan DNA. But the fact is, she has no connection to being *an African American in these United States.* I’d say the same about Rihanna, Rosie Perez, Idris Elba or Thandie Newton (for a time, everywhere I looked Thandie was being cast as a slave in America- pretty sure some American black actresses who had great great grandparents who were slaves, would’ve liked a shot Thandie – they wouldn’t even have had to fake the southern accent).

        My culture is an actual real thing to be acknowledged – a culture that not only played a large part in American culture period – it is American culture. Yet time and again it gets disregarded even as it’s appropriated, marketed and sold, in every corner of the world. So that’s the head scratcher, the fact that people want to abscond and appropriate but when it comes to the actual people and artists who are directly OF the culture it seems casting agents and productions are all to willing to dismiss them. Much like Nina.

        That’s not to say that I think there should be some hard and fast rule about ethnicity and culture are casting. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone else but Idris playing B’mores Stringer Bell on The Wire. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone else but Jewish Jimmy Caan playing Sonny Corleone. So yes, while some Norwegian IT girl could probably play a young Barbara Streisand…i bet there’s a jewish kid with pipes somewhere in Brooklyn or surrounding that should be given a look see. Maybe an Idina Menzel before a Jennifer Garner.

        I submit Zoe is no idris and she’s no James Caan. I don’t feel an exception should have been made for her based on the so-so talent she’s exhibited so far.

        It’s not blackface, it is lazy clueless superficial casting.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Zoe would be considered light skinned. Medium brown skin would be Gabriellen Union/Kelly Rowland. Dark skinned would be Viola Davis and Lupita N’Yongo.

        Yes she’s not as light as some, but she falls in that category. Stephen and etc. are high yellow.

      • Gina says:

        I guess it depends on where you come from. Your own cultural norms by region, community or family. Where I come from, ‘high yellow,’ is just one type of many different variations of ‘light skin.’

        There’s very light brown, lt.tan, lt.golden/golden (often called ‘high yellow), beige/cream and very light cream (pretty indistinguishable from many caucasians).

        Simply put Zoe Saldana, in my opinion doesn’t fall into any of those categories. She’s like Kerry Washington’s complexion. Kerry isn’t “light skinned” either. These are two beautiful brown skinned girls. http://static.vibe.com/files/2014/08/Screen-Shot-2014-08-12-at-11.56.07-554×400.png

        Just to be clear, I only mentioned it because it seemed to me, in describing her that way, it’s just one more way people are ignorant of black folk.

      • Cali says:

        @ Gina, the Light-Skinned tag for Zoe Saldana confuses me as well as she’s very brown, Zoe Kravitz would be considered light.

      • Gina says:


        Yup. +1

        Zoe and her mom, matter of fact – we can do the partial cast of ‘A Different World’ LOL…Lisa Bonet (Denise), Jasmine Guy (Whitley), Sinbad, Freddie, and Ron were the light skins on the show. Zoe’s darker than all of them. Lol

      • LAK says:

        Gina: whilst i agree with your general point,
        i must object to your assertion that one must be of the culture to play it, even if they are the right skin tone or race. That’s why it’s called acting and not documentary. So what if Thandie Newton (one of your examples) played an american? All that was required is that she be good at it. By the same token, do you object to Lupita playing a slave despite not coming from that culture? Or Will Smith playing an African Doctor in CONCUSSION? Or Don Cheadle playing an African in HOTEL RWANDA? Or Jennifer Hudson/Terrence Howard playing Nelson and Winnie Mandela in WINNIE, ditto Danny Glover as Mandela in numerous biopics, Jill Scott (aa
        nd other americans) as the title characater in No 1 Ladies Detective Agency…….etc and so forth

      • Gina says:


        You might want to read what I said. No where in my post did I use the word “must,” as in ‘must be of the same background,’ in fact, I go out of my way to say there should NOT be a cultural or ethnic litmus test to playing a role, and even use the examples of British Elba playing American gangsta Stringer Bell on The Wire and Jewish James Caan playing Sonny Corleone.

        I have no doubt that both men while not having origins in either background have a familiarity that gave them the necessary tools (i.e.Caan may have grown up in an Italian/Irish/Jewish enclave in brooklyn and his boyhood friends may have been italian american kids.

        I do think that a shared background, understanding of a particular history, and familiarity should give you additional points, though it shouldnt trump all.

        That’s what I meant, and that’s what I said – so really, what are you talking about?

      • Gina says:

        P. S. @LAK re your pointed questions about certain actors: I mentioned Thandie because it seemed for almost a decade, or a very long swathe of time, she played American slave girls. I was commenting more on the prolific nature of her being cast in all of those slave roles *to the exclusion* of actual American actresses descended from slaves. I don’t think thandie is the meryl streep of slave era film work, and I don’t think her talent nor her box office draw warranted her being the go to ‘slave’ era actress. So what gives?

        I have no issues with Lupita, that was her first breakout role, and her very casting was groundbreaking as a very dark skinned actress.

        As far as the other people you named. The film industry is an American one. If Will Smith is producing a movie and wants to cast himself what are you going to do.

        My main point is black American culture everyone wants to appropriate and is the most influential and yet actual black American actors get short shrift

  2. lisa2 says:

    This just made me think if Black models that complain about the quality of makeup for them. I have seen movies that use prosthetic and they looks great. The makeup on this looks like make up.

    I feel like I’m on the fence with all of this. I know the issue of individuals playing roles intended for a specific race is problematic. I don’t know.. I guess I keep looking toward the future when any role can be played by anyone.

    • Sixer says:

      But that’s the problem isn’t it? Any defence of what’s happened here is predicated on some future perfect world, where everyone has a fair shot at everything. That world does not exist and things like this film and this casting operate as blocks to such a future perfect world ever occurring. They are preventive measures; not steps towards a brighter future.

      • lisa2 says:

        but I see this as a slop that I don’t know if we understand how far reaching this is all going to be. We have actors playing people with a handicap. We have actors playing people with paralysis.. We have actors that have won academy awards for such. So will there be an outrage when this continues to happen. I mean do we expect actors not to play roles like that anymore. I don’t like the “black face”.. I just see this going in so many directions and I just don’t know how the line is going to be drawn at the end.

  3. COSquared says:

    This man doesn’t understand that he is further pushing the problem of DS-black women having less oppurtunities than their LS-counterparts. Another thing that annoys me is when some movies and shows tend to have LS-leads with a DS-supporting cast.

    • censored says:

      This man has a lot of nerve bringing up the brown paper bag test when he more than anyone knows THATS NOT HOW IT WORKS instead it used to exclude BW who dont have light skin
      As the founder of Beige Entertainment Television he was one of the worst perpetrators of colorism as the brown paper bag was predominantly used in BETs hiring and content (106 and Park anyone ?) In fact BET has never hired any woman looking remotely like Nina to host or be up front in any of their programming
      This is a part of the tragedy the same black men who would mock , reject and jump over a striking and brilliantly talented Nina to get to the Zoes of the world s are still doing so to her in her death (he needs to put down his cape and have a seat )
      The Bottom line is if Nina were alive today she would be too ” black ” to play her own darn self and he knows it .

  4. Sixer says:

    That was a beautiful piece from Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kaiser. Made me cry. Thanks for linking to it, even if I am all snotty and puffy now.

  5. Insomniac says:

    Hey, thanks for the link to the Ta-Nehisi Coates piece. I’m a clueless white lady who wasn’t quite getting the controversy here, and he explained it all in a way that I finally understood.

    • antipodean says:

      @Insomniac, I also raise my hand to being a clueless white lady, although I like to think I am always open to being educated and informed, so we are of like minds.That piece written by Ta-Nehisi Coates was illuminating to me. I have no solution to this deep and far reaching problem, its roots are buried so deep in the past centuries and is attributable to the human condition as it has always been. A dominant race of the moment abusing and enforcing its dominance over perceived “lesser” mortals. The paragraph where he explains why he could not feel the deep hurt that his sisters felt about the characteristics that others thought of as undesirable was absolutely heart breaking to me. It could be translated to any despised group in any society at any time. You are right Kaiser, this writer is a genius. He has encapsulated the problem that is at the core of this inhumanity.

      • WTW says:

        I don’t understand how being white makes you totally clueless about this controversy. You didn’t understand before reading the Coates piece that blackface is offensive or that women who look like Nina Simone are routinely excluded from Hollywood?

      • Lucrezia says:

        @ WTW: I assume antipodean is from NZ or Oz (since that’s what antipodean means). Racism looks different in different places. I’m from Oz, and I wasn’t aware of the sheer breadth of colourism-issues in the US until I read some things online.

        It’s different here. A large proportion of light-skinned Aboriginal people are descendants of the Stolen Generation … they (or their parents, or grandparents) were removed from their families BECAUSE their skin was light. (Removed from family, removed from their tribal lands, not allowed to speak their native language, not allowed to learn their own culture.) They are privileged in the sense that they are less likely to be a target for racism, but it’s also associated with huge trauma and disadvantage, so there’s not the same internalized racism, where lighter (whiter) is seen as automatically better.

        So I guess I was a clueless Aussie rather than a clueless whitey, but my point is that what is blindingly obvious to you might not be obvious to someone else. If antipodean and Insomniac gained insight because Ta-Nehisi Coates related it to masculine vs feminine beauty privilege, then … great!

        Personally, I’ve had two big “ah-ha” moments in understanding colourism. One was a while back, watching the doco “Good Hair”. Aboriginal people have straight hair; African-American hair issues were completely new to me, so that example isn’t really surprising. But the other moment was earlier this year, when a young Filipino guy I work with started complaining that he’d forgotten sunscreen at the beach and had “gotten so dark”. (I couldn’t see a difference, but then again it usually takes me a week or two to notice a workmate has shaved off a beard, so I’m clearly not the most observant person.) While I intellectually knew sun-avoidance and skin-whitening was a big thing in some Asian countries, I’d always assumed it was a female beauty “thing”. Females do a lot of silly things in the quest for beauty (myself included), but I found it shocking that a teenage boy would even notice his own tan, let alone be upset by it. I’d never thought that a teenage boy would’ve internalized that ideal and applied it to himself as well as to females. Made me realise I’d misunderstood how deep the issue goes.

      • censored says:

        Well at least @antipodean was self aware enough to admitting her lack of knowledge and was open to learning ,which is a lot more than can be said for some of the poster around these parts
        Your comment comes off as snarky and unnecessary IMO

  6. Lama Bean says:

    Wouldn’t India Arie have been perfect for this role?

    • Marny says:

      Yes but she turned it down.

      • censored says:

        @ Marney
        India was never offered the role , infact there were no open call auditions for the role . It was was first offered to Mary J Blige who dropped out and then to Zoe

  7. Scal says:

    Clearly Zoe thought this was going to be her ‘monsters ball’ moment. Make a pretty girl “ugly”, change her skin, change her nose and that screams Oscar bait.

    Which I find incredibly insulting as Nina Simone was stunning. Powerful. Charismatic.
    The fact that the casting directions thought they had to go with hot and pretty and dumb it down is awful. Even when Nicole Kidman changed her nose (just one part of her face-not her actual race)-she still looked pretty and captured the spirit of the character. There is no essence of Simone here.

    Not to mention the fact that the makeup is just done like crap. If they were proud of Zoe and didn’t think you need to have a actor look exactly like Simone-they wouldn’t have felt the need to do the crap makeup job

  8. QQ says:


    whatever this is exhausting… Also J’adore Ta-Nehisi Coates, LOVE him ( that article is INCREDIBLE, read it ya’ll!!)

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      I LOVE when people try to use the reason why something is wrong as a defense.

      “Won’t someone think of the poor light skinned actresses like Zoe?”

      No man. We’ll argue for respect and roles all day but we all know the scale tips one way and its not the way of being hard for light skinned actresses.

    • sanders says:

      Yes, much prefer Ta-Neshi Coates talking about colorism and racism than Chris Rock. Also it’s not just about skin colour, but facial features too, which Ta-Neshi pointed out. Zoe Saldana has more European features.

      • WTW says:

        Well, I disagree when people try to argue that a black person has more European features. You know, black people have a range of skin tones and physical features. I’m probably 100 percent African (or very close to it, my father is Nigerian and there’s no immediate mixing on my black American mother’s side), and I fall somewhere in between Zoe and Nina in both skin color and facial features. Not every black person has a really wide nose and really large lips.

      • sanders says:

        Obviously there is great variation within the Black community in the US as well as the African continent. That is undisputed, however; within the context of this topic, it is relevant that the role of Nina Simone is being played by a lighter skinned, European featured Black woman. Features that deviate from the European norm have less value within the dominant culture and sadly, within communities of colour. Ta-neshi Coates, as always, conveyed that point brilliantly in the linked article.

  9. Mgsota says:

    Thanks for the link, that was a really great read. It definitely gave me a different perspective. However, I didn’t get when he said “Saldana could be the greatest thespian of her time, but no one would consider casting her as Marilyn Monroe.” To me this is the other side of the argument. Zoe Saldana is not playing a white woman. Zoe Saldana, a woman of color is playing another woman of color. That’s not really a fair comparison he made.
    I didn’t know much about Nina Simone before this controversy, and it seems her physical appearance is a lot of her story. It’s not just her singing or some of the drama in her life, so in that regard I can understand the outrage.

    • WTW says:

      Yes, but women of color aren’t interchangeable. Saldana is a multiracial woman of African, European and indigenous ancestry (who looks it) trying to play a black woman of majority African descent with distinctly different facial features, skin tone and hair texture. That’s the difference. It would be less offensive if Saldana had not worn blackface. I can hardly look at the pictures of her as Simone. It looks like she’s making a mockery of dark-skinned black women. But if you’ve never had the physical traits of your racial group routinely and historically caricatured, maybe it’s hard for you to understand.

  10. seesittellsit says:

    How is that when a black actor wants to play, say, Henry V, a historical white king of England, no one dares turn around and says, “Um, Henry V was a white king of England in the Middle Ages, you’re really not right for this part,” (and in fact a black actor is going to be the RSC’s first “Hamlet” soon, and as Hamlet was the heir to the medieval throne of Denmark, he was as likely to have looked like this actor as Gwyneth Paltrow looks like Nina Simone) – but poor Zoe Saldana isn’t “black enough” to play Nina Simone?

    Aren’t makeup and prosthetic noses part of the routine magic of dramatic performance? I’m not arguing either for ditching nontraditional casting or enforcing traditional casting, but it seems to me there is a bit of hypocrisy surrounding all this.

    Isn’t Ms. Saldana an authentic WOC? If she doesn’t look “enough” like Nina Simone, how is it that no one is saying of the next RSC Hamlet, who is very black, he doesn’t look “enough” like a medieval Danish prince?

    I think Ms. Saldana’s performance should be judged on the basis of its skill and passion, not her skin shade. It’s not as if she IS Gwyneth Paltrow!

    Had they cast Barbra Streisand I could see the argument. But some of this argument goes down a slippery slope. If artistic verisimilitude becomes the absolute line, must it not go in all directions?

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      1. Which answer would you prefer? That plays tend to do very wild and different casting as their foundation or that if blacks only acted in their natural historical roles for plays we’d do nothing more than get slapped around and raped as slaves for entertainment?

      2. Zoe truly isn’t black enough to play Nina. Hence why they used blackface on her. If you want to understand why blackface till today makes the AA community rage then research its use by whites AND light skinned blacks.

      3. Makeup and prosthetic noses and freckles and weight gain don’t have the same loaded relationship in our country as skin tone. People are still facing discrimination because of being darker and there’s rhymes about how being lighter or ‘yellow’ is better.

      4. Zoe Saldana is a light skinned traditional Hollywood POC. She’s just the right shade of light and has had a very successful career. Authentic or not (and for much of her early career she denied her AA heritage) we can’t play oblivious to why this insults and angers the AA community. We all know how this game goes and no ones shedding tears for Zoe.

      5. In short. It simply isn’t so easy to try and compare this issue to white actors who take off fake freckles that are off no cultural consequence at the end of the day and go home. Meanwhile we still have very real issues of racism and colorism in this country as well as a background that the lighter skinned black you were the luckier and more successful you could be.

      • V4Real says:

        ” Authentic or not (and for much of her early career she denied her AA heritage) we can’t play oblivious to why this insults and angers the AA community. We all know how this game goes and no ones shedding tears for Zoe.”

        Thanks for saying this. I remember when Zoe cast as Nina was first mention on this site a few years ago I got into a huge debate with a poster about Zoe. The poster was like Zoe said she is Black. My argument was that Zoe is now saying she is Black but she didn’t always claim to be Black at the start of her career. That was my issue as well as some other POC with Zoe. Why all of a sudden she started claiming her Blackness when she didn’t want to be associated with the race at first. Same thing with Mariah Carey. Before she got her record deal she used to tell people she was Italian. But her handlers in the business told her it was best to tell people her true identity if she wanted to be accepted by the Black community as well as all others.

      • Cassie says:

        I’ll never understand how and why it’s possible a Black woman deny and can’t see she is Black.
        Zoe is not Black enough for Nina but she is a Black woman.

        I never saw any interview where Zoe claim not being Black. She was born and raised in a Black Spanish country in Central America. I doubt she doesn’t know about labels.
        The thing is African-Americans can’t accept Black people from other countries in the American continent.

        Mariah Carey is not Black but there are Black people claiming she is just because her father was Black. Mariah Carey also plays with her Latina card apparently her father was a Black man with ancestors born in Venezuela who were Black.

      • V4Real says:

        @Cassie Mariah has said many times that she is Black or Bi-racial. It came from the horses mouth. So you can call her a liar if you like. Saying she isn’t Black is like saying Halle Berry isn’t Black.

        “The thing is African-Americans can’t accept Black people from other countries in the American continent.”

        Now you’re lying on and generalizing an entire group of people. Some Black Americans are the ones who say Dominicans are Blacks and some Dominicans get offended when you call them Black. There are plenty of Dominicans who shares Zoe’s exact background but they will argue you down that they are not Black. Is it fair of you to say someone is Black when they tell you they are not?

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:


        Oh Gosh, I remember when Mariah Carey was Italian, lol. I suspect because it became more profitable for her to be black. Around Crossroads she was going for ambigious roles but knowing she was missing out on all those roles intended for black characters must have changed her mind. Next thing you know she’s finally admitting to it in interviews.

        Internalized racism is how it’s possible. In many Latin countries you’re considered inferior if you’re darker skinned and some are racist against blacks Colorism is far reaching and destructive. It’s easy to see why Zoe or anyone else could deny it when the safest way to be black in this country was to be light enough to ‘pass’. The closer you are to white the better for you. Mariah Carey claimed to be 100% Italian and intended to pass. It was her managers that warned her the truth would come out and she should admit to it before a scandal developed. As for blacks not being accepting of others. Ironic you say that since so many from other countries consider them inferior, including some from Africa.

    • Luxe says:

      Read the Ta-Nehisi Coates article that Kaiser linked. It’s really brilliant and explains it so well.

  11. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    Insulting. Yes colorism exists and he used it against other darker skinned blacks as a way of casting this film. Trying to make excuses or take the very real existance of shades of brown racism as a “YAY FOR ZOE!” is repulsive.

    Yesterday I watched the season finale of HTGAWM and I found myself genuinely entranced by Viola Davis’ acting. Even scenes where she didn’t speak were mesmerizing. Then I thought about how there’s only one other actress on TV I can think of with her skin tone. Know how many AA women with Zoe’s skin tone are on TV? Dozens upon dozens.

    So no, it wasn’t about using the brown paper bag to hire an actress for this film. It’s acknowledging exactly WHY you chose an actress who is light skinned for the role of a dark skinned woman, why you were comfortable putting her in blackface, and why you completely ignored and insulted the same oppression Nina felt at the hands of whites AND light skinned blacks.

    • sanders says:

      I love watching Viola. I love that someone with her skin tone and features gets to play a complex character on network television. And on a purely aesthetic note, she is beautiful, killer skin and eyes!

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        Seriously! She’s so gorgeous and it’s even better that she’s such an amazing actress.

  12. Jwoolman says:

    I still think that since Nina’s skin color was so integral to the story, they needed to darken the skin of any lighter skinned person who played her. They just needed a much better makeup job. That kind of makeup onscreen shouldn’t look like makeup at all. Nowadays, I’m surprised they didn’t do it digitally instead. That would have given them complete control over how it looked.

    As far as just casting somebody with a closer shade is concerned – maybe that wasn’t realistic at the time for a variety of reasons. They undoubtedly felt they needed a well known name. And Zoe was available when others were not, so timing matters. Maybe Zoe just was willing to go where angels fear to tread- at least one good actress said she felt the legendary role would be too hard to play. Playing a person who is still remembered from real life is pretty tough, there is always going to be loads of criticism. Much easier if the person has been dead for at least a hundred years.

    It’s sad that Zoe is getting trashed even before anybody has seen the whole movie.

    • FingerBinger says:

      There are a dozen actresses who could have been Nina Simone. A dozen actresses who didn’t need to be in blackface or wear a prosthetic nose. If they needed Zoe to make this film why has it been sitting on the shelf for 4 years? They knew they made a mistake casting her. Zoe is far from a good actress btw.

      • censored says:

        Exactly IMO Zoe is a decent actress but people out here acting like she is Meryl Streep or JLaw and no movie can be made without her
        Also People really need to stop bringing up her name in the same breath with Angella Basset and Denzil Washington biopics not the same thing by far.
        She .is.Not.in .Their .League!

  13. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    Oh my God, I just went to church on that written piece. That was amazing. Eloquent and perfect, exactly what I and so many others have been saying repeatedly.

    These two sentences stood out to me the most:

    “There is something deeply shameful in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic.”

    “It’s equally difficult to ignore the fact that, while it is hard for all women in Hollywood, it is particularly hard for black women, and even harder for black women who share the dark skin, broad nose and full lips of Nina Simone.”

    This film looks like a tragedy and I dare say that nearly all white production team, while possibly well-meaning, made a very common liberal mistake of thinking they understood enough to take the reigns of a very real cultural struggle and simply play it like other movies that don’t have the same racism in their very DNA.

  14. Lindsey says:

    @seesittellsit YES! Thank you! While I obviously disagree with blackface and do believe that all segments of the entertainment industry should make diversity a focus and priority, simply demanding it won’t make it so. And even worse, the meaningfulness of the true progress we’ve made is diluted when people (mostly women) ascribe hyperbolic emotion like outrage to Oscar nominations and refuse to acknowledge how far we’ve come because a POC in a movie about a POC made by POC, isn’t the exact right shade. I understand that colorism was a thing and still is in some places for some people. However, to me, it seems like an excuse to continue to be dissatisfied or offended by any means possible. Before everyone starts chirping at me, I recently read an article from the Institute for Economic Affairs that I think perfectly describes what happens in the comments anytime any issue of racism, sexism, slut-shaming, “heteronormative oppression”, etc. is broached.

    “A positional good is a good that people acquire to signalise where they stand in a social hierarchy; it is acquired in order to set oneself apart from others. Positional goods therefore have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.

    Positionality is not a property of the good itself, it is a matter of the consumer’s motivations. I may buy an exquisite variety of wine because I genuinely enjoy the taste, or acquire a degree from a reputable university because I genuinely appreciate what that university has to offer. But my motivation could also be to set myself apart from others, to present myself as more sophisticated or smarter.

    And that is what positional goods are all about – signalising a high position in a ranking, that is, a relation to others. This leads to a problem. Positional goods are used to signalise something that is by definition scarce, and yet the product which does the signalling is not scarce, or at least not inherently.

    PC-brigadiers behave exactly like owners of a positional good who panic because wider availability of that good threatens their social status. The PC brigade has been highly successful in creating new social taboos, but their success is their very problem. Moral superiority is a prime example of a positional good, because we cannot all be morally superior to each other. Once you have successfully exorcised a word or an opinion, how do you differentiate yourself from others now? You need new things to be outraged about, new ways of asserting your imagined moral superiority.

    You can do that by insisting that the no real progress has been made, that your issue is as real as ever, and just manifests itself in more subtle ways. Many people may imitate your rhetoric, but they do not really mean it, they are faking it, they are poseurs (here’s a nice example). You can also hugely inflate the definition of an existing offense (plenty of nice examples here.) Or you can move on to discover new things to label ‘offensive’, new victim groups, new patterns of dominance and oppression.

    If I am right, then Political Correctness is really just a special form of conspicuous consumption, leading to a zero-sum status race. The fact that PC fans are still constantly outraged, despite the fact that PC has never been so pervasive, would then just be a special form of the Easterlin Paradox.”

    • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

      “even worse, the meaningfulness of the true progress we’ve made is diluted when people (mostly women) ascribe hyperbolic emotion like outrage to Oscar nominations and refuse to acknowledge how far we’ve come because a POC in a movie about a POC made by POC, isn’t the exact right shade.”

      Progress in this country is on a sliding scale purely based on skin tone. How long should half of our population starve and the other half cherish crumbs?

      As for the rest of your paragraph. It sounds like a very intelligent approach to completely misunderstanding an issue. Better to not comprehend why there is outrage or why the outrage seem so great then make the effort to do tedious resear into understanding why the problem has built up to this level or why many can no longer tolerate all the insidious racism plaguing their daily lives.

      • Lindsey says:

        First of all, I love that people engage in the comments on this site and I appreciate that you stimulate debate for your sides, Side-Eye. Just needed to get that Celebitchy love out really quick.

        To your first point, I disagree. At least to some extent. Every generation (~5 years) that goes by, things get better and better. That trend will continue, if current public sentiment is any indicator. I’m a researcher at a large university and I work with almost exclusively women and POC. I know that’s anecdotal but my point is that my white privilege (what it’s constantly boiled down to sometimes on this site) didn’t get me any further than their effort, and that’s nice to see. So this is the time for minorities and otherwise put-upon groups (not sarcasm) to celebrate and champion each other, invest in their communities, and hold each other accountable for improving systematic supports and engaging. It’s not the time to start finding and raging about instances of racism so small they are literally termed micro. Or the shrinking segment of society and commerce that are just bad people stuck in their ways who don’t have a real impact on the current situation anyways. That all was to say, you cannot demand equality. You cannot shame and bully a society into equality. Because then it’s not equality, it’s tokenism and pandering and feeds the subtle racism of lowered expectations. That’s why I find some sources of outrage on this site to be petty and counter-productive.

        To your second point, that quote was really supposed to represent more how I feel about the comments on this site lately and in general political conversations. PC culture has progressed to such a point that nobody seems sincere anymore. Should I really believe that a random white girl from Connecticut feels political and personal feels about Zoe Saldana as Nina? With everyone trying to be the most enlightened, sensitive person in the room, and the people in power catering to that as a part of their effort to stay in power, there’s no room for a real conversation because that’s less valued than feeling like you’re a good person who cares more than the average person. Any dissent from the PC point of view is shouted right down and vilified (i.e. “End of discussion” “How do some of you still not get this?” “Telling any joke that makes fun of a negative or hurtful stereotype is extremely offensive”). As a result, we’re focused on microaggressions and accusing entire institutions and groups of people of being racist and priviledged because we perceive slights in things like cafeteria food (Oberlin University students, many of them taking advantage of institutional structures that allow them to afford an education based on their status of a protected class, had protests and petitions because the cafeteria food was not using authentic ethnic ingredients and was culturally appropriating and alientating students as a result). Whoever did whatever releases a canned apology and nobody cares and nothing was achieved. I just want to have positive conversations about progress and opportunities for growth. Not condescension matches, where everyone disdainfully tells each other how stupid anyone would be to think anything else.

      • The Eternal Side-Eye says:

        “It’s not the time to start finding and raging about instances of racism so small they are literally termed micro.”

        But colorism isn’t on a micro scale. I appreciate that you interact with POC but I do think you’re lacking context in your understanding of this issue. Colorism effects us from the smallest level to our presidency. Also micro-aggression does not denote that the racism is small as in insignificant but small as in its not someone literally burning a cross on your lawn. That many times it comes from a foundation of such institutional racism that even the most well meaning individuals are unknowingly invoking racist speech and action. “You speak so well.” “You’re better than the other ones.”

        “Or the shrinking segment of society and commerce that are just bad people stuck in their ways who don’t have a real impact on the current situation anyways”

        You seem very well intentioned but my goodness. No impact on the current situation? Really? Police brutality? The economic disparity based on ethnicity? The degree to which certain schools are failing and that funds are stripped more regularly from schools that cater to minorities more than even poor schools with majority white students?

        “That all was to say, you cannot demand equality. You cannot shame and bully a society into equality.”

        Yes you can. Literally no aspect of history in the civil rights movement occured willingly and without battle. The Civil War. The Federal Govt. sending down police to march black students into white schools while local sheriffs threatened them. The tradition of riots occurring and it in turn forcing societies to slowly improve their race relations happens till this day. How many decades did Ferguson have to improve that didn’t occur till after its riots? How many times did Baltimore sweep its police’s actions under the rug until the riots? Now they’re in trial.

        Thanks for the compliment I enjoy the debate too. Celebitchy love back.

    • cr says:

      If you want to make points about how you think PC can be too much, quoting from a jargon-filled blog post from the the IEA, a longstanding right wing very pro-free market economic think tank, isn’t the way to go about it effectively.


      Coates’ article is more effective, not just because Coates lives this, but he doesn’t view it in the abstract, and is a much more effective writer.

      The writer of the IEA post,, Kristian Niemietz, seems to forget there’s a human component to all of this.

      • Lindsey says:

        That’s a totally valid critique and I guess I didn’t consider the article in the context of a comparison to Coates’ when including it. But what I really took away from it was the economic analysis of this period of human behavior, and how the perception of emphathy/sensitivity is such a valuable societal trait that people actually damage the movements they claim to stand for through inadvertant self-advancing behaviors. The intrinsic value and worth of having conversations about race and equality is not the motivator behind so many of these important discussions and the result is that the discussion are meaningless. We don’t believe a word our politicians say anymore because they are all saying the same talking points and platitudes, and we recognize this because their motivations are clear (stay in office). If an average person is chiming in on a conversation about race with assertions of knowedgability and and recommendations for how everyone else can improve themselves, their motive is unclear – it could be passion for the cause or passion for positive societal positioning. A lot of times, it’s the latter, and that means it’s a lot of talking with no real investment in actions or progress. And I find that exhausting. A big, enlightened circle jerk.

      • cr says:

        “But what I really took away from it was the economic analysis of this period of human behavior, and how the perception of emphathy/sensitivity is such a valuable societal trait that people actually damage the movements they claim to stand for through inadvertant self-advancing behaviors. ”

        I get that, but that author of the IEA seems more focused on numbers/abstract concepts, and not just in this opinion piece. I think for him it’s both ideology and the inability to actually see people behind all his theories/number crunching. There’s probably something better out there, but I don’t think you’ll find it at the IEA.

  15. Pandy says:

    I dunno. An actor using make up and prosthetics to more physically inhabit a role. Isn’t that acting?

  16. robert johnson…… sooo uhhh NOPE bruh… and your commentary on the backlash is irrelevant to the ACTUAL criticism

    this movie is deadass wrong and zoe is wrong and everyone is wrong for letting this go down and auditioning for it and such….. imagine the women they turned down who didnt have that strong name box office appeal they thought they wanted —- BUT who looked like Nina somewhat more or less —who they turned down for…..

    HOEEEEEMYGOD…. this movie is gonna be the GIGLI of autobio pics….


  17. AlmondJoy says:

    Lindsey: I had to stop reading at “I understand that colorism was a thing and still is in some places for some people.” That statement alone lets me know that you don’t get it and you won’t get it.

    The issue at hand has been explained extensively in every single Nina/Zoe thread. If people don’t get it at this point then I’m going to go ahead and assume that it’s not something that affects you personally.

    • Lindsey says:

      So I have to say that colorism is a thing, was a thing, and affects absolutely everybody? Every POC deals with colorism and it’s going to be an issue forever? I think that was a pretty fair statement, in that colorism was an extremely present issue for a long time, and it’s effects are still being worked through and overcome in modern society. But it’s not an oppressive factor to nearly the degree it once was, and it’s inclusion in the conversation means that we’re finally addressing the more nuanced parts of racism. Which we’re only able to do on a foundation of belief in equality overall, which is a positive thing to me.

      Also, I don’t know if the issue at hand has been explained extensively as much as it has just been said to be. Commenters who attempted to engage in a dialouge about the ramifications of further segregating ourselves were told to look up colorism in a book. Or that they must have white privilege or weren’t capable of thinking outside of their experiences.

  18. Portugal the Stan says:

    OMG Johnson is the only person that makes a lick of sense in this nonsense. Everyone else, please take a seat.

  19. Kath says:

    It’s amusing that producers and casting agents seem to go out of their way to hire the same ‘type’ of look, whether black or white, they are always the same thin, attractive model-types. Yet the success of a show like Orange is the New Black shows that audiences are screaming out for diversity and actors who look like real people. You can’t suspend disbelief and get engrossed in a movie/TV show that is purporting to show ‘real life’ when everyone on screen looks like they just stepped out from a toothpaste commercial.

    It also seems that there is a different standard for male black actors in terms of colourism than for female actors (Idris, Wesley Snipes, Isaiah Washington, Kevin Hart etc.), which pisses me off.

  20. Colette says:

    Maybe he needs to explain why a movie filmed in 2012, is just coming out now.

  21. greathugtini says:

    Man cave
    Sunday funday
    Throat punch 😧😨😠

  22. TOPgirl says:

    Black isn’t black enough. So many issues with being black. Why can’t we all just get along.