The “politically correct”(PC) left is often no better than the Christian right when it comes to looking for ways to be offended by movies. The latest victim of PC backlash is “Nina,” the film based on legendary jazz and blues singer and civil-rights icon Nina Simone. Nina is played by Zoe Saldana (“Avatar”), an actress “of color,” as they say, but who required some skin darkening from the makeup department to portray the ebony Simone. This led to charges of “blackface” racism that sunk the film at the box office, yet it’s hardly a caricature. Surely Saldana would also have been damned if she hadn’t used make-up, accused of “whitening” a black artist.
An oft-heard PC criticism of the film industry has always been along the lines of, “Why can’t a non-white actor play Hamlet or James Bond?” The argument is that it’s performance that counts, not skin color, so it’s the height of hypocrisy to deny that standard to Zoe Saldana.
While the PC cranks point to this or that actress with darker skin who would have been “better,” they fail to note that Saldana actually sings Simone classics like “Wild Is The Wind” and “See Line Woman,” backed by Simone’s own musicians, and she does a fine job of conjuring up the drama and intensity of Simone on a good night.
That’s certainly not something just any actress could pull off. Is skin tone a more important criterion than musical ability? If Simone’s career stood for anything, it was a refutation of that idea. You can decide for yourself, by watching “Nina” on Vimeo.
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