BET Founder Labels Zoe Saldana ‘BlackFace’ Criticism Relic Of Slavery | Film News
It was a couple of weeks ago that reports criticising the casting of Zoe Saldana in a biopic about the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, first began to emerge. It was claimed by some that Saldana performed in ‘blackface’; a term which refers to a practice that dates back to the very beginning of Hollywood where white actors would wear makeup in order to portray black characters.
The criticism has been raging since then with even Nina Simone’s estate entering the arena by telling Saldana on Twitter: “Please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life“. Now the distributor of the Nina Simone film has entered the ridiculous debate, stating that the claims of blackface are relics of slavery-era attitudes towards skin colour.
Also attacking the critics is Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and often referred to as the first African-American billionaire. Johnson was the one who bought the rights to Cynthia Mort’s film in December and speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, defended Saldana; an American of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent:
“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“.
Johnson then went on to compare the controversy to the ‘brown paper bag’ test, where African Americans were turned away from sororities, churches and nightclubs if their skin was darker than a bag:
“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?”
The biopic of Nina Simone will now have a limited U.S. cinema release and will also be available via video-on-demand. It is a shame that a film which should celebrate a great musician and human has been mired in ethnic controversy.
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