One of my favorite female musicians is Nina Simone. Like many other fans, her voice and lyrics have a way of pulling on every heartstring while conveying her message. Whether that message was one of love or loss, Nina had a way of pulling you into her world unlike any other.
Growing up in the discraceful era of black inequality and discrimination, Nina was judged on her appearance as opposed to talent. For her last year of high school, Nina Simone attended Juilliard School of Music, as part of her plan to prepare to attend the Curtis Institute of Music. She took the entrance exam for the Curtis Institute’s classical piano program, but was not accepted. Nina Simone believed that she was good enough for the program, but that she was rejected because she was black.
As the Civil Rights era gained momentum, she found herself at the forefront; creating songs that reflected the times, the struggles of blacks in a white America, and her proud identification of her black physical features. Her message and dedication to the cause of black acceptance and equality make her the legend that she is today.
Nina Simone wrote “Mississippi Goddam” after the bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama killed four children and after Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississipppi. This song, often sung in civil rights contexts, was not often played on radio. She introduced this song in performances as a show tune for a show that hadn’t yet been written.
Other Nina Simone songs adopted by the civil rights movement as anthems included “Backlash Blues,” “Old Jim Crow,” “Four Women” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” The latter was composed in honor of her friend Lorraine Hansberry and became an anthem for the growing black power movement with its line, “Say it clear, say it loud, I am black and I am proud!”
Recently a new Hollywood movie is set to come out about Nina’s life and there are many people upset about the chosen woman to play her, Zoe Saldana. Saldana’s is a very light-skinned actress with completely opposite phyiscal features of the late Nina; features that Nina took pride and spent her career supporting the true physical identity of black people. To fix this problem they are having Saldana wear an Afro wig and what appears to be a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup. Are there no other black actresses with “real” features who are capable of resembling Nina?
While you may go either way on the choice of Saldana, contemplate what Nina would think. She spent her life battling a society who oppressed her people and an identity which she found pride in. Even today in the media these stereotypes exist, but it would be a shame to see someone as revolutionary and meaningful to the history of Black-American music be fed into the white-washing media machine.
If you want to find an actress that pays respect and truly exemplifies the late, great Nina Simone, sign this petition at Change.org: Jimmy Iovine & Cynthia Mort: Replace Zoe Saldana with an actress who actually looks like Nina Simone