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Zoe Saldaña and the Nina Simone Drama

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As a Dominican-American, bilingual Afro-Latina, I’ve been wondering what all the drama is about with likewise, Zoe Saldaña playing Nina Simone in an upcoming film on her life.  Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music, born in Tyron, North Caroline in 1933.

Now, in case you don’t know, there has been MAJOR backlash about the Latina actress Zoe Saldaña being chosen as the lead for this movie and mostly from the African-American community.  I’ve done a lot of searching and reading online and there are a lot of opinions, emotion, and fury expressed on this topic.  I think I got to the core of the issue after discussing the drama with a friend who was kind enough to help me to “get it.”

First let me begin by saying that Zoe Saldaña has recently responded to the backlash on video and she shared how she was proud to be selected to play the role and that basically she wouldn’t allow people’s negative feedback to keep her from engaging in her craft.  Zoe mentioned that as a proud black woman, her hopes are to honor the memory of Nina Simone with her performance and that the show must go on.  Much respect to Zoe.  Seems simple enough, but it’s not.  It’s complicated, as most racial issues tend to be.

Nina Simone was a dark black woman with beautiful full features and throughout her life these attributes where a source of great pain to her, because let me be frank, in her day – her beauty was not recognized as beauty by many and her race was not recognized as valid by most Americans.  As you can well imagine, Nina suffered endless discrimination and endured harrowing rejection and disrespect based on her appearance.  Nina addressed many of these issues in her music and she certainly had to address them in her everyday life.  Zoe Saldaña embodies a prototype of black beauty generations in the making with her features, lighter skin, and long hair.  By choosing Zoe, the film producers perpetuate this stereotype and a lot of people feel it dishonors­­­­­­ Nina’s life, struggles and pain.  It is found unacceptable within many in the Black community to choose an actress that has to undergo heavy make-up and prosthetic application to appear as Nina.  ­­­­

Expectedly, there is talk of boycotting the movie “Nina” within the Black community.  The film is now in post-production and scheduled to be released this year.   Personally, I plan to see the movie in support of Zoe Saldaña’s efforts and in memory of Nina Simone. However, I have a better understanding of why all the drama and I “get it” now.


By Being Latino Contributor Veronica Pearman who can be followed on Twitter @VeronicaPearman

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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