Not black enough?

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Sgt Michael Connors via Wikipedia
Zoe Saldana

A TRAILER for the new film biopic of Nina Simone has sparked controversy at the casting of American actress Zoe Saldana as the legendary singer and formidable civil rights activist.

Director Judd Apatow, a white man, has come under heavy fire for essentially ‘blacking up’ the actress, who is of African, Puerto-RIcan and Dominican descent and of distinctly light skin tone, in stark contrast to the much darker singer.

Donning a prosthetic nose and playing Ms Simone in her older years, Saldana has been directly criticised by the estate of the singer who shot to fame with her 1965 album I Put a Spell on You.

The criticism centres on the fact that at, 37 years old and of much lighter complexion, Saldana cannot legitimately represent an icon of the black civil rights movement in her later years.

Those peddling in the outrage argue that her blackness was at the core of Nina Simone and that diluting that part of her story to swing a big name star is obtuse, especially at a time when Hollywood as an institution is already parrying allegations of racism.

Others have pointed out that criticising the casting of Saldana, who is a black woman after all, is akin to demanding that actors be a certain shade of black and sounds more like an inverse South Africa.

It is a strange yet interesting controversy that raises all manner of questions. Is there an inherent subconscious racism at work in Hollywood? Why do people object to a fictional James Bond being black while being ok with white actors portraying ‘others’? How much should we pander to the professionally outraged? When will humanity finally shed the controversy of race?

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