By Agunda Okeyo

The ?#?NinaSimone? biopic staring ?#?ZoeSaldana? in effective blackface is so disturbing and equally apropo to reveal the serious problem of white people telling black people’s stories.

The ENTIRE principle film crew that brought this monstrosity to life are ALL white. Jezebel the feminist blog prepared a visual list of the main collaborators in this film, from the writer/director (Cynthia Mort), to casting, to make up, to the producers–all white. To be fair actor David Oyelowo (who masterfully played MLK in Ava DuVernay’s Selma) and stars in this unfortunate calamity made years before his ascension as an actor, was also a producer. Aside from himself and one Asian woman producer, I think it’s fair to say that these bozos had no idea what they were doing.

Furthermore, WTF is up with Zoe Saladana? I have come to like Zoe: she’s from Queens, a city kid like me, she doesn’t deny her Afro-Latina roots and espouses feminist ideals… But this film is a testament to her ignorance about black self-determination.


I recall having an annoying exchange with a blond Cuban woman the other night. She’s one among the growing legion of emotionally unfulfilled individuals who make a habit of running excessive 5ks and half marathons. I just wish folks would expend similar energy towards climate change or sex equality or something other than an excuse to drink 5 micro-brew beers a day without guilt. Anyway, this blond Cuban woman was geeked out when she found out I was Kenyan and exclaimed “my friends call me Kenyan because I run so fast! You’re a runner right?” Eye roll. “No I’m not a runner, I bike,” I said. I was immediately bored.

I tried to express to her that that is a narrow and biased assumption: Kenyan = Runner. Most white Americans with any modicum of guilt would back away. But she displays that other type of white supremacy: Latino white supremacy. Often white supremacy in the Latino community manifests itself in an especially paternalistic view of blackness–to be black is to be told who you are, be given what you have and to give in to the will of white folks whenever they want. In exchange for this kindness you will be “protected” (allowed to “exist” in white spaces) like some infant who can’t think for him or herself.


I can’t help but think Zoe internalized this somehow in her unfortunate choice to blacken up and coon the astounding achievements of the American QUEEN of the classical piano in a jazz formation called Nina Simone; the greatest champion of black power in popular culture. Only Zoe can really make sense of this foolish and disrespectful portrayal of Miss Nina Simone.

Now Nina was no saint. But she was a badass who deserves deep exploration and understanding. For anyone who has watched telenovelas, Zoe as Nina just looks like one of those “mammy” characters they like to throw in there every once in a while. Boo!!!

Some have called on the release date for the film on April 22nd to be a day to reclaim Nina’s legacy with listening parties and to boycott the film. Her estate agrees (as posted on their Facebook page). I’ll let Nina Simone’s estate have the last word. Yesterday they responded to tweet from Saldana saying “@zoesaldana cool story, but please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life.”


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