March 17th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
To the extent that identity is imbued in the body and manifests as a nose or an eyebrow or a skin color, then changing a nose or an eyebrow or a skin color, even in subtle ways, can erase a person’s identity.
I do not believe and never said that the nearly all-white team behind film are out-and-out racists who sought to disrespect Nina Simone’s legacy. But, as Coates notes, “racism is a default setting,” and unless we are doing the difficult, inconvenient work to undercut racism, it will continue whether we consciously mean to or not.
The producers of Nina are the heirs of this history—not personal racists, but cogs. Jezebel’s Kara Brown researched the team behind Nina. It is almost entirely white. Doubtless, these are good, non-racist people—but not good enough. No one on the team seems to understand the absurdity at hand—making a movie about Nina Simone while operating within the very same machinery that caused Simone so much agony in the first place. I do not mean to be personally harsh here. I am not trying to hurt people. But there is something deeply shameful—and hurtful—in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic. In this sense, the creation of Nina is not a neutral act. It is part of the problem.
There are those who say we should be happy that a movie about Nina Simone is being made at all. Indeed, biopics about black women—or any women of color for that matter—are rare.
However, again: By casting a much lighter-skinned black woman without the very black features that characterized Nina Simone—not just in her appearance, but in how she was received by the world—you undercut a vital component that makes her story so important in the first place.