After days of rumors, it’s been confirmed: Zoe Saldana has been cast to play Nina Simone in an upcoming film based on her autobiography. I’ve largely ducked the conversation, briefly offering my own two cents as to who I felt should play the part (Viola Davis, or another black actress who’s dream is to play Nina Simone). But now? Now I’m feeling a bit human.
As a black girl in college, I would spend my days and nights coping to the 5-year culture shock by listening to Nina Simone, De La Soul, The Roots, Miles Davis, Lamb and many others. There were nights where I cried over code that wouldn’t compile and all I had was a Nina Simone mix to get me through it. Nina Simone’s lyrics especially spoke to where I was at the time trying to navigate an institution I couldn’t understand. It wouldn’t be until I left that I’d grasp what it meant to be in that space.
So when I signed on to twitter this morning and read the linked article to the confirmation, I cried. Not just because of my personal experience and not because I am worried that Zoe S. might do a terrible job.
Zoe S might actually have an amazing performance as Nina Simone. I hope she blows us all away. She has consistently identified as a Black woman and no one has the right to strip her of that identity. Reaction to her part was based on skin color, but this isn’t about who is Black enough to play Nina Simone.
No, this is about who is telling Nina Simone’s story. Did you catch that? Before a cast was created, a screenplay was written by Cynthia Mort who wrote for shows like Roseanne and Will & Grace.
Dark skinned girls don’t stand a chance when someone who cannot identify with what it means to be Black, woman and from the South (all at the same time) is writing the story.
That’s mostly why I cried. Because again someone is going to tell this story to an international audience but it’s not someone with that experience. Someone else is representing Black girls and we’re forced to trust she does it well.
I could be more upset; I could be properly enraged, but for the fact that I know there are people working to tell their own stories and to empower others to tell their own stories.
Spectra, for example, is now in southern Africa teaching social media and storytelling to women and LGBTQI groups. Kindred Magazine is launching this fall. Sweet, Sweet Country just finished an amazing week of filming and is running a Kickstarter campaign to complete the project.
Another reason I cried is because in that moment I realized we have so much work to do to get our stories spread. We need to build a media infrastructure as formidable as Hollywood’s that can distribute these stories and support those at the margins who are telling and creating them. We need to create platforms that we own, community-owned media centers that are not at the mercy of funding cycles or internet service providers.
But most of all we need to keep telling our stories. That’s why Afrolicious started in the first place and that’s why we keep going. “Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of hunting will be weak,” goes the old proverb. But we’ve been speaking. Maybe we should trying roaring?
Always be creating, y’all.