Coates breaks it down brilliantly in his exploration of the impact of racism, sexism and the Hollywood system on our self-esteem — particularly the often unhealthy love-hate relationship with our noses, lips, hair, skin color and other physical features.
“Simone was in possession of nearly every feature that we denigrated as children,” he writes in The Atlantic. “And yet somehow she willed herself into a goddess.”
“Simone was able to conjure glamour in spite of everything the world said about black women who looked like her. And for that she enjoyed a special place in the pantheon of resistance. That fact doesn’t just have to do with her lyrics or her musicianship, but also how she looked.”
How she looks in Nina — with dark makeup, a wider prosthetic nose and a wig on Saldana — and the depiction of mental illness in the trailer (see below) are rankling Simone devotees.
“I’m going to keep my chin up because that’s who I am and that’s who I’ll be and Nina was like that, too,” Saldana says in an interview with HipHollywood.com. “I did it all out if love, out of love for Nina, out of love for my people and who I am and my pride of being a black woman, a Latina woman, an American woman, and that’s my truth.”
Simone’s only child, Lisa Simone Kelly, also defends Saldana — but not the movie — in an interview with Time magazine. While she would have preferred an actress who looks more like her mother, she expressed relief that two documentaries exist to counter the movie’s storyline: Liz Garbus’ recent Oscar-nominated What Happened, Miss Simone? and Jeff L. Lieberman’s The Amazing Nina Simone.
“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” said Simone Kelly, 53, who is also an actress and singer. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”
“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.
What’s Behind the Medical Scenes?
Considered brilliant as a musician and committed as an activist, passionately blending the two, Nina Simone also struggled with bipolar disorder (BP). Many famous African Americans have been diagnosed with BP, including actress Jennifer Lewis, politician Jessie Jackson Jr. and singer Macy Gray. Some of them have also come out to help raise awareness.
More than 2 million people have bipolar disorder. Black men and women are just as likely to be bipolar as people of other races, yet blacks are far less likely to seek care or get adequate treatment. BP is characterized by drastic mood swings between manic and depressed phases. The exact cause is unknown, but people with BP have an imbalance in brain chemistry and may have inherited some level of risk for the disease.
The very public meltdowns of stars like singer Chris Brown, who was diagnosed with BP in early 2014, show that untreated BP can wreak havoc on someone’s life unless they receive the proper care. It’s important for everyone to know that with appropriate treatment, people with BP can lead successful, fulfilling lives.
For more information, see “Bipolar Disorder and African Americans” on Mental Health America’s website.
What Happened, Miss Simone? by Liz Garbus was nominated for an Oscar this year, but lost to a documentary on Amy Winehouse.
This is the official trailer for Nina, by Cynthia Mort, which opens on April 22, starring Zoë Saldana and David Oyelowo.
Another documentary, The Amazing Nina Simone, was directed by Jeff L. Lieberman.