Saturday, March 5, 2016

Too black to be Latina, too light to be black? Saldana shows how confused society still is with regards to race

SIMONE: As herself
As one who enjoys the singing of the late musical performer Nina Simone, I wish I could say I was looking forward to the film based on her life that is supposed to be released publicly next month.

But with all the fuss that’s being made over the fact that actress Zoe Saldana is playing the part of the famed singer, all that this film is likely to do is further illustrate just how confused our society is with regards to race.

FOR THE RECORD, Saldana is a dark-skinned woman whose ethnic origins include significant elements of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – along with traces of Haiti and Lebanon. I’m sure there are many in our society who look at her and see a black woman; something she has never tried to deny or downplay.

SALDANA: Can she be convincing as Simone?
She’s a dark-skinned Latina. There have been feature-type stories written that emphasize Saldana as the perfect example of how not all Latinas are light-brown in complexion, and can come in many complexions.

But there are those people who think that isn’t good enough for Saldana to play the part of Simone. They want someone whom they’d like to think of as pure-black.

As though her ties with Latin America make her unfit to think of holding such a role. Too light to be black, and too black to be Latina? It makes me think that all sides of our society have their hang-ups that need to be overcome. Either that, or maybe us Latinos are correct in thinking it's everybody else in society who's a bit ridiculous.

INSTEAD OF BEING a celebration of the life of an entertaining singer with a social conscience back in the 1960s, this film is likely to get bogged down in racial nonsense – particularly from people who think of race as an absolute.

Rather than some sort of mixture that 99 percent of us have little bits and pieces of everything. Everybody has that relative in their past who is the “dirty little secret” they’d probably rather have everybody else forget all about.

It’s going to be bogged down in a lot of cheap rhetoric about racial categories; rather than focusing on whether or not Saldana is capable of convincingly portraying the singer who gave us a convincing cover of that semi-pornographic blues tune “Sugar in My Bowl.”

At least it was when blues singer Bessie Smith gave it to us on ancient recordings nearly a century old. Simone turned it into something almost loving and sweet.

ALTHOUGH I DO wonder what Simone herself would have thought of the casting choice (she died in 2003). She was into the Black Power movement of the 1960s, and I know some jazz music fans (including my father) who still get outraged anytime they hear the song “Mississippi Goddamn.”

Which was her musical response to much of the violence against black civil rights activists who protested throughout the southern U.S. in the 1960s.

Maybe Nina would have been bothered too by someone not quite as dark and a little more brown than black portraying her. Just as I remember a few people getting all worked up when Saldana played the part of Lt. Uhura (the role that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., supposedly enjoyed) in that 2009 remake of Star Trek as a movie.

Although I found it interesting to read reports on Friday where Simone’s daughter said her objections to the film had nothing to do with Saldana’s complexion and were more tied to the script.

LISA SIMONE KELLY told Time magazine she’s bothered by the romantic relationship the film has her mother having with her manager, Clifton Henderson – a man whom Kelly claims was actually gay.

That may be a more legitimate reason to be skeptical of the film – although one I’m sure that would bore to tears the people who’d rather get all worked up over skin complexion.

Let's be honest -- being able to do Calvin Klein ads convincingly is a large part of why Saldana gets film roles
If anything, such disputes may wind up showing how irrelevant complexion and racial differences can be.

Particularly if the film winds up directing at least a few people back to the original records of Simone’s music. That would be the best outcome of this whole experience.


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