My skin is black, my arms are long, my hair is woolly- Four Women by Nina Simone
Growing up as a cocoa brown child with nappy hair in the 1970’s and 80’s, I never felt very cute or pretty. Oh, it’s not that anyone told me I wasn’t, my Pops used to call me his beautiful black bunny! However society let me know that compared to my latte and peach colored friends, whatever beauty I had only existed to those who were obligated to say such niceties. Rarely did I see reflections of my type of beauty; even growing up in Chicago! Sadly my story is the story of hundreds of thousands of cocoa colored girls with nappy hair. I would like to think things have changed since my childhood but even in my day to day life here in Maine, I see the seeds of self-hate being planted daily with little brown girls, who look at me with the same raised eye brow that I used to give me family when I tell them otherwise.
I remember as a child stumbling across one of Nina Simone’s album covers and thinking that ugly woman looked a lot like me. Childish thoughts for sure! Thankfully I grew up and found my own beauty and realized that there was not a thing wrong with being a cocoa brown nappy haired girl and Nina Simone’s music has been one of the soundtracks of my life. Along the way I saw Nina’s beauty, a beauty that in my childish and simplistic mind I was not able to see. It’s safe to say I am a huge fan of Nina Simone.
Hence when I heard news that a film about Nina Simone’s life was going to be made with the beautiful and talented Zoe Saldana playing the role of Nina, I was momentarily shocked. Zoe is an attractive and talented actress without a doubt, however she looks not a whit like Nina and to play the role of such a legend, well you do need to look like Nina.
For those not familiar with Nina Simone, she was more than just a wonderful singer and the “High Priestess of Soul” she was a force to be reckoned with! Nina Simone had many faces yet they were faces that capture her essence and beauty at a time when a dark brown woman was rarely seen to be beautiful.
Hollywood has a way of playing it safe when it comes to casting for Black roles, rarely picking actresses darker than a paper bag and when they do; well we get to be The Help. Frankly I am tired of seeing only light complexioned African American women in roles; I need the next generation of brown girls to see themselves. I need to know that a day will come when a little girl who looks like me won’t be damn near 30 before she sees her own beauty.
So Zoe, this is not personal, to play the High Priestess and capture her essence, you need to resemble her and has lovely as you are, you simply don’t.