Zoe Saldana has been cast to play singer and rights activist Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic, a decision that has caused all kinds of controversy because, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in the Atlantic, the African-American actress does not share the "dark skin, broad nose, and full lips" of Simone. The casting is unfortunate, but is it racist? Well, yes, writes Coates. Those behind the movie, almost all of them white, are surely "good, non-racist people," writes Coates, but that doesn't matter. "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." In fact, if a young version of Simone herself were around, she probably wouldn't have gotten the part because of her distinct African-American looks.
"The very fact that there’s such a shallow pool of actors who look like Simone is not a non-racist excuse, but a sign of racism itself—the same racism that plagued Nina Simone," writes Coates. The producers have become unwitting "cogs" in the perpetuation of this "racist hierarchy," one that proves the world is still not ready for Simone's story to be told. Director Cynthia Mort has asked everyone to withhold judgment until seeing the movie, but Coates thinks that's irrelevant. The movie itself may end up being great, but "nothing about the quality of Nina can actually counter the problems inherent in its very inception." Besides, he adds, black women already have seen the film in one sense. "Indeed they’ve been seeing it all their lives." Click for the full column. (Read more Nina Simone stories.)