1:44 AM / Thursday June 1, 2023

24 Sep 2012

On movies, bold action and why Zoe Saldana shouldn’t play Nina Simone or How I learned to appreciate the lesson of T.D. Jakes even if I’m not a big fan

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September 24, 2012 Category: Local Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Nina Simone


Sista girl!


Yeah, I’m talking to you, Zoe Saldana.


After bouncing your pom-poms in “Drumline,” soaring above the enchanted forest in “Avatar,” and making whoopie with a young Mr. Spock in the last “Star Trek,” you clearly have earned your stripes as Hollywood’s latest soft cocoa-toned ingénue.


But, sista girl, please never forget that white Hollywood can give you a river of money and stardom but one thing it can’t yield is authenticity.


And to play the vitriolic and petulant iconic Queen of Protest Soulmusic– Nina Simone– authenticity is needed in spades (pun definitely intended).


As an obsessed fan, I knew Nina Simone from more than a dozen concerts she played in the New York metropolitan area during the late 1960s. We used to line up in Central Park’s Wolman Skating Rink three hours before opening curtain for tickets that cost just one dollar. Between 1967 and 1969 some of the world’s greatest jazz artists would treat native New Yorkers to their talents for those up close and personal one-dollar concerts sponsored by a local bear brewery.


So, when I heard Hollywood finally had agreed to make a movie about the incomparable Nina Simone, naturally I was curious about who would land the starring role. Originally, I heard it was supposed to be Mary J. Blige. But then, (as the gossiping wags say) “something happened.”


Mary was suddenly out and Zoe was name as her replacement.


Forty years ago as a dashiki-wearing, super Afro-styled college radical, I obsessed on Nina Simone. When I wasn’t quoting the Chairman’s Red Book or listening to the Last Poets on my transistor radio I was trying to find ways to get to Greenwich Village to see Nina do her “Mississippi Goddam” or “Four Women.”


I knew “Peaches,” I mean Nina. And Zoe, you’re no Nina Simone.


PHOTO: Zoe Saldana.


Besides lacking the deep down pigment and the perennially pissed-off attitude, the scowl Queen Nina used to pummel her audiences with is also absent.


Blue-black and not very pretty (by Western standards), Queen Nina understood what it was to be black and an outcast. Enormously talented at the piano, Simone could back up her angry words and demeanor with a display of musical legerdemain second to none.


That suspension of mind and consciousness that John Coltrane could render with his alto sax, Simone could do with her keyboards and growling voice. Even more so, her embodiment of the anger many young urban blacks felt at the time was her trademark on-stage persona. After one of her signature concerts, we left Central Park feeling as though indeed we had just cussed out ‘The Man’. It was cathartic.


Clearly, many of us aging baby boomers remain skeptical of how you, Zoe Saldana, will try to capture Nina Simone’s essence when you clearly lack so much of the essential raw material.


Your selection for the role is just another example of why more of our superstar athletes and entertainers should pool their resources to make our own movies, separate and apart from the Hollywood blockbuster-infatuated dream factories. Only a casting director from a foreign culture would cast you in this starring role when a stellar talent like Viola Davis would have made an excellent choice.


While it’s axiomatic that African Americans don’t own any major movie house chains, the proliferation of Redbox and Netflix proves there are alternative ways for a professionally produced product to attract an audience and make a profit.


Rev. T.D. Jakes’ movies like “Jumping the Broom” have shown the way. So, why can’t P. Diddy, Jay Z and 50-Cent pool their resources and produce a few films each year which capture the strength, beauty and pathos of some our ancestors like a Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer or Jim Brown?


Why can’t Beyonce’ and Alicia Keys get together and back a project say on Sister Betty Shabazz or a Grambling’s famed football coach Eddie Robinson?


The Civil Rights generation opened the access to vast wealth and opportunity for these blackfolk and others. It’s time for them to export some of their largesse to insure those doors allow others to pass through. That’s what every other ethnic subset of Americans have done since Christopher Columbus got lost at sea and bumped into North America. That’s what the octogenarian Harry Belafonte has been agitating about these past several months.


I don’t have to be a big fan of T.D. Jakes to recognize he has been bold enough at least to do what a lot of other so-called “revolutionaries” just talk about.

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