The objection to Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone in the film Nina misses the point. Acting is a craft. Actors interpret roles. Halle Berry is not a drug addict because she played one in Spike Lee’s film, Jungle Fever.
Zoe is accused of not being an African American. She is or she is not is neither here nor there. There was a role and producers decided that she was best person to interpret it.
I think there was also some rumbling about Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave. Some public opinion felt that those roles should have gone to African American actors.
The objection to Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone is not new. Maybe jobs are the problem. Ask South African actors. They bleed every time another Mandela movie is given to Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard, Idris Elba or Naomie Harris. They should just learn to live with the fact that if money is coming from abroad, the cast will also come from there.
Film production is a business. Producers want healthy returns for their investment. They are not in this business to create jobs for actors in South Africa, United Kingdom or U.S.
Thandie Newton, a British citizen has worked in many black films and I don’t remember any suggestion that those roles should have gone to Kimberley Elise, Anika Noni Rose or Keisha Knight Pulliam.
Producers of the Nina Simone film did not create the rules. They found them in Hollywood a century back, when black actors were cast as maids and mammies.
There was a time when Hollywood screenplays wanted actresses that could ride a horse. That is how many upper class English actresses got plum roles and most of them moved to America permanently. A British public school accent was also a visa to fame and fortune.Another good example is Anne Hathaway, an American actress. That did not stop her from doing Becoming Jane, based on Jane Austen. Producers and the director cast her because they felt she could sell the film at the box office. Nicole Kidman is Australian but she has done American and British movies. The list goes on.
Zoe Saldana is not the problem. It is the way film production money is raised and that is not going to change, ever.
Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.