Blackface- in 2016

nina simone

(Dutch National Archives)

            Yes, this is a real thing.

On March 3rd, 2015, the new biopic of Nina Simone released its first trailer. The movie centers around Nina Simone, a famous singer and activist who was known for her activist work toward racial equality and the basic civil rights that many of us would not have today if it weren’t for activists such as her and Martin Luther King, Jr. Simone was an African-American woman who grew to fame during the late 50’s and early 60’s, also known as the civil rights era.

Now, in 2016, in the same year when some Americans like to claim that racism is dead, Donald Trump is running for president and there is a Latina woman playing a black woman in a biopic about a civil rights leader. Ironic, no?

Zoe Saldana was offered the role of Nina Simone, and, much to the surprise of most people, she accepted the part. While the casting choice may seem odd, not all hope was lost – until the trailer was released.

When I say Zoe Saldana is wearing blackface, I don’t say so lightly, nor would I ever be one to accuse another person of wearing blackface without justifiable reason to do so. When I say Zoe Saldana is wearing blackface I mean that Zoe Saldana is wearing blackface for the entire duration of the full length film, and is also wearing a prosthetic nose to make her nose look bigger.

Instead of casting someone who has similar facial features and similar skin tone to Nina Simone, the casting director went with an Afro-Latina woman who does not identify herself as black. Even if she did identify herself as black, that doesn’t then make it morally acceptable to put her in blackface to play a role that many other actresses could have rightfully played!

It’s just confusing how this could still be going on in a time when many of us preach equality. Yet, at the same time, it’s not surprising at all. America has a long way to go to become a non-discriminatory society and this biopic only proves that to be true.

America isn’t even the only country dealing with these issues. As an example, in the Netherlands it is common to celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day, a holiday on December 5th featuring a figure named Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet’s character has changed over time, but he was originally considered St. Nicholas’ black slave and people in the Netherlands will dress in full blackface for this “tradition” every single year.

We want to know what your thoughts are on the Nina Simone biopic, blackface in general, and anything else you have to add to the conversation. You can email with your thoughts and they may even be published with your permission in a future issue or on our website.

Article written by Amanda Owens.

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