Category: Response

What Everyone Missed About Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

FILE PHOTO:  Actress Zoe Saldana To Play Nina Simone In Biopic Role
Nina SIMONE; (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns) Actress Zoe Saldana (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Relativity Media)

With the pending release of Nina, noted intellectuals, journalists and storytellers are weighing in on the film’s casting of Zoe Saldana, a black Latina, as Nina Simone. The arguments center on colorism, erasure, appropriation and lackluster storytelling, but no time has been given to understanding Saldana’s perspective and experience as a woman of color. This understanding will not explain Saldana’s decision to take this role or our limitations in accepting her in the role, but it is important that we explore this complicated landscape.

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Understanding Zola’s Empathy

Zolay Story NYMAG by Anna PulleyReading Anna Pulley’s, “The Zola Show and Why It Was Hard to Look Away” I am not only baffled by her conclusion but also angered. Pulley explores many angles of Zola’s twitter stripper-hoe narrative: social media responses, narrative style, sex-worker script, race, cultural desensitivity, story ownership and story veracity. She also acknowledges that, “we see depictions of sex workers of color (often tragic, often exploited — or living it up in a music video), but we rarely hear from them.” However, she concludes that though Zola’s narrative is compelling, it does not deserve praise and attention because it is missing empathy. Ending on such a sour note gives us more insight into Pulley than Zola.

In her synopsis of Zola’s 154 tweet story, Pulley misses the most salient point: Jess betrayed Zola. At every step of the story Zola notes the many ways in which Jess lied to her beginning in the car. Zola thought she was on a stripper trip not a trap (prostitution) trip.  After they left the strip club, Jess-at her pimp’s suggestion says she needs to trap because she didn’t make any money stripping. When Zola confronts Jess in the hotel room Jess says, “I didn’t wanna take this trip alone. Please don’t leave me. I would be so scared alone.” Jess trapped Zola in a web that could have led to her rape, entrance into a criminal life or death. Jess knowingly betrays Zola. Did she really ensnare Zola for companionship or for her pimp? In either case, is Jess the only victim in this narrative? (more…)