The Zoe Saldana-Nina Simone Controversy

I have been following this story for some time with a mixture of amusement and horror; satisfaction too, I suppose, as it is nice to see that black grievance-mongers are equally irrational when the imagined offender is black rather than white. There is integrity in this, after the irrationality of it all.

Nina Simone’s tribute website calls her a “classically trained pianist who evolved into a chart-topping chanteuse and committed civil rights activist.” As a white kid growing up in the Sixties, I missed Simone almost entirely: she wasn’t a regular guest on TV variety shows.  In college, I encountered aficionados who referred to her as brilliant, and I tried to appreciate her song stylings. She was one of those singers that  I could understand why she was famous and exceptional without wanting to listen to her for pleasure. At the time I regarded Simone as a cult singer, but that was unfair; she was obviously more important than that. I was also unaware of her considerable significance in the civil rights

Three years ago, Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone in “Nina”, a major Hollywood film about the singer’s life, replacing singer Mary J. Blige, who was originally cast but dropped out. Immediately, the choice of Saldana, a rising black actress of Dominican and Puerto Rican parents best known for her work as Uhura on the “Star Trek” reboots, “Avatar,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”, was attacked. She wasn’t a singer, isn’t a “true” African-American and doesn’t resemble Simone sufficiently, the critics said.

All of these accusations are ridiculous on their face. Most biopics about famous singers, though not all, star actors rather than vocalists: all singing is dubbed in after the film anyway. When, in the history of drama, has there been a rule that the performer’s ethnicity had to match the role he or she was playing? I wrote about the foolishness of this issue most recently here. What matters isn’t that Yul Brenner wasn’t really a Thai, what matters is that he was fantastic at playing the King of Siam.

The lack of physical resemblance is the most bizarre complaint of all. Does the handsome Daniel Day Lewis resemble Abe Lincoln? Would it be possible to find a black actor who looked less like O.J. Simpson than Cuba Gooding, Jr., who is playing him on the current FX mini-series? To show business ears, such a complaint transcends ignorance. That’s why they call it “acting.,” you silly twits. When this controversy first erupted, I assumed the volcano would become dormant fast, in great part because Saldana is a compelling and interesting actress.

But no. When the trailer for the film came out recently, Mount Racial Outrage erupted with a vengeance.In the trailer, Saldana’s skin as Simone is darker than her own, and she is wearing a prosthetic nose to look more like her subject. The gist of the complaints is clear in this excerpt from  an article in The Guardian:

“And why does this matter? Not only is the marginalisation of darker skinned actresses in Hollywood a huge problem, but Simone’s racial identity was a crucial part of her life. She was denied access to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia because of her race, but she was unbowed, using her musical genius to become a prominent voice in the civil rights movement. As Arie says in a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter: “In the context of the politics of race in America, and the politics of race in the entertainment industry in America, to make a movie about a person like that and cast an actress that has to wear blackface and a prosthetic nose is tone-deaf.” In my opinion, it is an insult to Simone.

Why does Hollywood choose to darken an actor’s skin and create a prosthetic nose rather than casting someone of the desired skin tone and features? The fact that it is even considered as a matter for the costume department is problematic in itself: these are the features and skin tone that some of us are born with.

And no, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman wearing prosthetics in “The Iron Lady” or “The Hours” is not the same thing. They are white women playing white characters. Saldana’s case is different because of what having a wider nose means in a society driven by Eurocentric notions of beauty that consider any deviations as undesirable.”

The fact that anyone could write such self-trumpeting gibberish, and that an editor could read it without doubling over in laughter, suggests cultural pathology. I guess we can look forward to a future boycott of the Oscars because wide-nosed blacks were once again shut out of nominations. Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman wearing prosthetics is exactly the same thing as Saldana wearing a Simone-like nose. Any time a beautiful and famous actress plays a non-beautiful subject, it is the Eurocentric biases regarding beauty that made helped made her a star in the first place, and put her in the position to get the part. The principle applies to men too: nobody looked for a talented, fat, old actor to play Alfred Hitchcock; they signed up Anthony Hopkins, who had to be buried in padding. The casting principle has long been to make the star fit the role, not let the role dictate the star.
At the core of the controversy is the recent delusion that make-up is suddenly taboo when skin color is concerned. Vox’s “race and identity reporter” Victoria M. Massie embarrasses Vox and herself by writing, “A lot of the controversy is rooted in the fact that Saldana is a light-skinned actress of color (of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent) who is essentially donning blackface.”

No, she is not. Dark make-up isn’t  blackface, which refers to the make-up convention used to mock black stereotypes in minstrel shows. I discussed this groos historical and logical misrepresentation in the post about “Othello.”  Saldana is donning make-up to assist her portrayal of a real historical figure, just as actors and actresses have been doing as part of their craft for centuries. There is absolutely nothing unethical, racist or inappropriate for any actor to don any shade make-up in order to play a role. What matter most, however, are the actor’s skills. Blacks can play whites, whites can play blacks, Asians can play either, gay can play straights, and if a young actor plays an old character, the make-up isn’t “wrinkle-face. Unfortunately, the affirmative action mindset among some activists now extends to the performing arts: the primary objective, we are told, is to hire more black actors, whether they are the best choices for the role or not. Mary J. Blige. who was initially cast as Simone, has yet to prove she can act at all. Which is more of an honor to the memory of Simone, a skilled and nuanced performance by a professional actor, or a portrayal by an amateur actress with the right shaped nose?

Candace Norwood, an up and coming race-baiter who assisted Massie on the Vox piece, adds this twaddle:

“I think there are two important points when looking at this. The first being that it’s just ridiculous to spend money and effort making a light-skinned actress darker for the role when there are so many dark-skinned actresses who are equally, if not more, qualified to play Simone. Given our history of showing preference for people with light skin over those with darker skin, it is easy to see how the casting decision would quickly erupt. Secondly, considering how much Simone loved and promoted her dark skin, it is wrong and disrespectful to her legacy to cast a light-skinned actress to play her.”

I think you should try your theory when you start producing moves, Candace. Virtually everyone in the profession disagrees with you about not using make-up and other devices to allow a particular talent to play a character he or she does not physically resemple. This is pure ignorance, an ill-informed opinion about a craft you know nothing about, being published irresponsibly. Was it ridiculous to cast Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger? Was it ridiculous to cast Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot? Why spend the time and money to get Bradley Cooper to beef up so he resembled Chris Kyle in “American Sniper,” when it would have been easier to cast a lesser but bulkier actor who looked like Kyle already? Moreover, your opinion that there were plenty of darker skin actresses “equally, if not more, qualified to play Simone” is nothing but an unsupported opinion that in this context, is worthless. That choice was the director’s to make, and whether he was right or wrong will be determined by Saldana’s performance.

Since Saldana wasn’t cast because she had light skin, but because she is an extraordinary actress and has a fan base of her own, her casting was completely irrelevant to “our history of showing preference for people with light skin over those with darker skin.” As for the particular biases and sentiments of Simone herself being a consideration, this total and complete fantasy. The film is being made as entertainment and as a commercial product. No such film has any obligation to ensure that its subject would approve of it, or that the film would serve her objectives or political agenda. Indeed, many, if not most, subjects of Hollywood biographies would be horrified to know that a film of their life was being made at all. Simone is dead. Her opinion of the film is not an issue, and there is no obligation to turn a film about her life into a political product that advances causes she championed.

Meanwhile, the messages being put forth by contemporary civil rights advocates have devolved into incoherence. The uproar over the lack of black artists and projects featuring them in Hollywood has now been followed by contorted attacks on a major film about an important black singer, giving an exciting black actress an opportunity to show new range and depth. Well, yes, she’s black, but not the right kind of black, and besides, her casting in an insult to People of Broad Nose.

It is also worth mentioning that the attacks on Saldana herself could not be more unfair and cruel. After Saldana gave an interview about her feelings about playing Simone,  the “Official Twitter for the Estate & Legacy of Dr. Nina Simone” sent Saldana a tweet that said,

“Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”

Classy.

I wonder: Has it occurred to any of these anti-make-up warriors that the activist community’s increasingly oppressive political correctness demands, as well as its “gotcha!” mentality where the objective is to find political fault and racist intent behind every decision and project in order to bend others to their will, may be a major reason for the absence of diversity in Hollywood films? It would be if I were producing films or heading a studio, and racial bias would have nothing to do with it. Why make a movie about Nina Simone if this is what you have to put up with?

“You know what? I’ve changed my mind. Let’s do ‘The Connie Francis Story.'”

77 thoughts on “The Zoe Saldana-Nina Simone Controversy

    • I agree, especially in this context. I remember Roger Ebert once panned “Land Before Time” arguing that the dinosaurs should have talked, and it should have been done like “Benji.” That’s just lousy criticism.
      Don’t knock a movie because you wouldn’t have done it the same way.

    • But unfunny actresses don’t get enough work, and are systemically discriminated against!

      I’m trying to think of who I’d cast in your bio. I bet Lisa Lampanelli could act, she’s funny, she’s tall, and now that she’s lost over a hundred pounds, I bet she could easily look like you. What do you think? Should I call her?

  1. Ok, I will stop watching “A Touch Of Evil” a classic Orson Wells film in which Charton Heston is cast as a Mexican drug enforcement officer and Janet Leigh is also cast as his Mexican wife. I’m sure this was highly offensive to the Mexican community although they seem to have liked Charles Bronson a lot. It’s also really unfair to the Jewish community to have cast Charles Heston as Moses. He doesn’t even look Jewish. Also, Lou Diamond Phillips playing Richie Vallens. Please, he’s part Filipino. How culturally insensitive!!

    • Lou can’t sing, either; David Hidalgo did the vocals. Lou also played the King in “The King and I” on Broadway. Those areood ones, though Heston has gotten crap for that role as long as I can remember. I think he’s fine, and the movie, of course, is sublime. (Marlene wasn’t really a gypsy, either.) You can go on forever with these, and please do, I enjoy them: Sean Connery using his Scottish accent as a Russian and also as a Berber in “The Wind and the Lion;” Anthony Quinn, an Irish-Mexican, playing Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Italian mobsters; Al Pacino as the Cuban “Scarface” (after Paul Muni, a Jew, played the original Italian “Scarface”)…

  2. Meryl Streep can play me. Never mind that she is tall and willowy, elegant and gorgeous and I much more resemble a toadstool than a willow….that’s how I want to be remembered, dammit!

    Nina had something about the way she moved and carried herself that was very distinctive – her speaking voice, her gestures. It will be hard for an actress to capture that:

    • That’s a great observation, Lisa, but I think that’s one reason they chose Zoe. She’s a very physically talented actress, athletic, and a dancer. She’s a lot more graceful than Blige. This is a big chance for Zoe to show her chops, and it’s just revolting that she’s being abused like this.

  3. This seems to be a tempest in a tea pot. The critics are looking for a good controversy but don’t offer any reasonable replacements, just that Zaldana isn’t black enough, shouldn’t have make up or a prosthetic. For instance, would Viola Davis be a better cast? How about Fantasia Barrino? (As an aside, is it ‘Zaldana’ or ‘Zaldaña’? Latino Grievance Police had better get after it.) The success or failure of the movie will depend, in large part, on Zaldana’s performance, keeping in mind that many bio-pictures often offer a simplistic treatment of the person’s life because it is impossible to express an entire lifetime in a 2-3 hour time frame. The better movies are the ones that concentrate on a small time period of seminal importance to the person’s image.

    I would assume that the overriding concern would be to tell the Nina Simone story, not the degree of melanin in the actress portraying Simone’s skin tone. Apparently, my privilege prevented me from appreciating that within the black community, lighter-skinned Blacks are considered to have more opportunities than darker-skinned blacks. Nobody told Samuel L. Jackson about that. I should check my privilege more often; otherwise, I will continually being on the wrong side of each and every social and cultural issue.

    In reading responses to the articles linked here, I learned a new term: “Colorism”. So, now not only are we to be concerned about racial identity, but with the more nuanced elements of skin tones among and between racial classifications. Not only will racial discrimination be prohibited in hiring and firing and home mortgage qualifications, but society will no longer be able to differentiate between degrees of blackness. Zaldana isn’t black enough; nor is Halle Berry. Based upon this outrage, Ben Kingsley would not and should not play Gandhi, because not only is he not Indian, he is not Hindu, never lived in either South Africa or India, had the wrong nose structure, and was not born in a dark, windowless ground-floor room of the Gandhi family residence in Porbandar city.

    This is the most telling comment, though: “And no, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman wearing prosthetics in ‘The Iron Lady’ or ‘The Hours’ is not the same thing. They are white women playing white characters. Saldana’s case is different because of what having a wider nose means in a society driven by Eurocentric notions of beauty that consider any deviations as undesirable.” All black lives matter; but some black lives matter more than others. Who knew?

    jvb

  4. I think the critics have a point. Nina Simone spent a goodly portion of her career decrying the prejudices against and erasure of dark-skinned, broad-featured women in the media, and then they cast a light-skinned, more European featured actress to play her? I think the irony was too much for many people to bear. I think if Nina Simone’s public identity didn’t revolve around such activism on behalf of dark-skinned, broad-featured women, there probably would not be such controversy. No one cared that Angela Bassett did not look a thing like Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It”. Or Diana Ross looked nothing like Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues.” Neither one of them made the way they looked a political act.

    And as a side note, I think another problem people have with Saldana’s look is that the makeup job, as seen on the poster and previews, looks terrible. I don’t who the makeup artist is, but they should be shot. Saldana’s green makeup for Guardians of the Galaxy was more believable than the crap they did for the Nina Simone movie.

    • So, let’s see: by that logic, a biopic of H.L. Mencken shouldn’t star a Jewish actor because he was anti-Semitic? Is Will Smith a Black Muslim? Is it ironic to have him play “The Greatest”? As I said, considerations of Simone’s crusades are irrelevant to the process of choosing an actress to play her. How far do you carry your logic? If she was a militant vegan, would it be “ironic” to cast a meat-eating actress? Could a pro-life actress play Margaret Sanger? Could a gun-control zealot play a vigilante hero? Could a liberal Democrat play Reagan? What if Saldana shares Simone’s belief about the prejudices against and erasure of dark-skinned, broad-featured women in the media? That doesn’t matter, just how she looks without make-up?

      Sounds like bigotry no matter how you cut it.

      • So let’s see: by that logic, a biopic of H.L. Mencken shouldn’t star a Jewish actor because he was anti-Semitic? Is Will Smith a Black Muslim? Is it ironic to have him play “The Greatest”? As I said, considerations of Simone’s crusades are irrelevant to the process of choosing an actress to play her.

        None of those revolve around appearances though. If someone did a biopic about Peter Dinklage, yet they cast Ryan Reynolds to play the part, I think many critics would have a problem, even if filmmakers assured the public that they would shoot it “hobbit-style” so that Reynolds would seem short. If you have to do all of that “wizardry” to contort an actor into the part, especially one so closely-held to that person’s identity, just cast someone else. Otherwise, just let Saldana play Nona Simone without the blackface makeup. They didn’t try to lighten Bassett’s skin to play Tina Turner or Rosa Parks. Or Denzel’s to play Malcolm X. Or darken Terrance Howard to play Nelson Mandela.

        What if Saldana shares Simone’s belief about the prejudices against and erasure of dark-skinned, broad-featured women in the media?

        The only reason to darken Zoe Saldana’s skin is precisely because that is one of the key points about Nina Simone, this erasure of dark-skinned black women in the media. If you look at most of the black biopics, changing the actor’s skin tone really isn’t done, no matter how far apart the two people’s skin tone might be in real life. It is a pretty sensitive subject within the black community, because of the confluence of many issues. If Zoe Saldana truly felt as Nina Simone did, then she should have gracefully passed on the role, and suggested another actress who would have been more appropriate.

        • 1. That dwarf scenario occurred in one of the Snow White movies: normal size actors were shortened by computer effects. The same was done in the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, with camera tricks, to shorten John Rys-Davies So what? The question, as with the Saldana movie, is what works.

          2. “The only reason to darken Zoe Saldana’s skin is precisely because that is one of the key points about Nina Simone,” The reason to use make-up is the same reason make-up has always been used: to look the part.

          3. “It is a pretty sensitive subject within the black community”
          Yes, because they find MLK’s “color of our skin” statement problematical when skin color bigotry fits their agendas. It’s massive hypocrisy, of course.

          4.An actress needn’t feel as their subject does. If a director thinks you can do the part, then you should play it, unless you are certain you can’t play it. She’s got the ability, and looks are irrelevant. Thanks to make-up.

          5.Otherwise, just let Saldana play Nona Simone without the blackface makeup. They didn’t try to lighten Bassett’s skin to play Tina Turner or Rosa Parks. Or Denzel’s to play Malcolm X. Or darken Terrance Howard to play Nelson Mandela. Time for “Direct your own movie, then.” Using an actress who looks nothing like Simone is a choice. Using make-up is a choice, not doing so is a choice. In some cases, you don’t have a choice. Jayne Mansfield can’t be flat chested. Jimmy Durante has to have a big nose. If skin color is that bid a deal with Simone, then make-up is probably called for. I sure wouldn’t notice, and most wouldn’t.

          It’s not blackface. Don’t just contradict me like that; I made it very clear that it isn’t blackface and why—that’s a distortion and a lie. It’s dark make-up, and that’s all it is. IF you have a substantive argument that it should be regarded as the same as blackface, make the case, or concede the point. Usually the only arguments is that it “Reminds” people of blackface, or offense once removed. Does she have white greasepaint on her lips? Is she wearing white gloves? Then it isn’t blackface. When Fred Armisen played Obama in SNL skits, he wore dark make-up. There was no outcry, though Armisen is white. I thought we were through with that nonsense—Progress!—and now a black actress is being accused of blackface. Idiotic. Stop it.

          • It’s not blackface. Don’t just contradict me like that; I made it very clear that it isn’t blackface and why—that’s a distortion and a lie. It’s dark make-up, and that’s all it is.

            Blackface is a type of theatrical makeup used to signify a black person. That’s the dry, dictionary definition. It doesn’t require the white greasepaint, or the white gloves. Traditionally, it has heavy, dark history, used to mock black people, and used in racist depictions of black people. Zoe Saldana is in “blackface” for this role. Her makeup is used to signify that she is a dark-skinned black person, when she is not. She is masquerading as a dark-skinned black person. Which, given the history of dark-skinned black actresses being passed over for roles in favor of lighter skinned actresses, would have been a sensitive subject. But even more so because of the particular subject of the biopic, a person who specifically campaigned against such things, made the irony too much for some people to bear.
            Saldana is free to take the role. Other people are free to react negatively to her being cast in that role. And they have some valid points regarding the choice, both in the history of skin darkening, the particular person, and the fact that almost certainly Nina Simone herself would have hated that choice, as does her remaining family. I don’t see the problem. The producers alienated the primary market for such a biopic, completely tone-deaf in a bizarre way. I haven’t looked into specifically, but are the producers for this movie foreign and/or white? There is obviously some serious cultural miscommunication going on. As soon as I heard about Zoe Saldana being cast, I winced. And when I heard that they were planning on darkening her skin, I just shook my head. I knew what was coming. To bad they seem so taken for a loop.

            Last, throwaway point. People actually did have a problem with Armisen playing Obama, though it was somewhat muted given the subtle browning they used on Armisen,, and his own multiracial background. But you did see they hired Jay Pharaoh the very next season, basically solely so he could play Obama in sketches?

            • 1. The definitions specifically reference white people playing blacks for comic and offensive effect. The term blackface in a racial context cannot be separated from minstrelsy. Dark makeup for legitimate theatrical purposes is not “Blackface.” This is like calling illegal immigrants immigrants, blurring a material distinction.

              2. Armisen is not multi-racial. He’s white, half-hispanic. Of course people had problems with it. Race bullies will manufactiure offense at anything. Oh, lighter dark make-up is what, half-blackface? How can you argue such silliess?

              3.Other people are free to react negatively to her being cast in that role
              People are feev to be bigoted, narrow and criel, yes.

              And they have some valid points regarding the choice, both in the history of skin darkening, the particular person, and the fact that almost certainly Nina Simone herself would have hated that choice, as does her remaining family

              The choice: good actress. Nothing else matter. The history of minstrelsy has nothing to do with a light-skinned black actress using make-up to portray a darker skinned icon. Simone and her family’s preferences are similarly irrelevant. One’s dead, and the others don’t no beans about movies.

              I don’t see the problem.

              Do you see the problem with people taking offense at a black James Bond? It’s the same problem. Narrow-mindedness, ignorance and bigotry. Why should producers take calls for casting more black actors in roles written for whites seriously from the black community, when it thinks shades of black should disqualify a capable actress? Ogf course it’s hypocrisy.

              And names, please: what dark skinned actors have been passed over? Poitier is dark. Cicily Tyson has had a good career. Prove there’s light vs dark bias, divorced from talent. The difference is that light skinned women can pay a role and have it be essentially race-less. A Jessica Alba can swing both ways. Viola Davis is unequivocally black. She still gets a lot of work. I understand why blacks are obsessed with race and see it as a factor in all things. In this case, they are turning that attitude against each other.

              3

              • 1. The definitions specifically reference white people playing blacks for comic and offensive effect. The term blackface in a racial context cannot be separated from minstrelsy. Dark makeup for legitimate theatrical purposes is not “Blackface.” This is like calling illegal immigrants immigrants, blurring a material distinction.

                One of the most famous performers of blackface was a black vaudeville performer by the name of Bert Williams. He darkened his skin with makeup, even though he was black.

                2. Armisen is not multi-racial. He’s white, half-hispanic. Of course people had problems with it. Race bullies will manufacture offense at anything. Oh, lighter dark make-up is what, half-blackface? How can you argue such silliness?

                Hispanic is not a race, of course. Armisen has indicated that he is multiracial. A quick google perusal indicates that he is part-white, part-Asian, at least, with no one knowing exactly how to characterize his Venezuelan mother. Other than that, I was just pointing out that your assertion, “that no one had a problem with Armisen darkening his skin to play Obama” was not true, people did actually have a problem with it at the time, and the show did make adjustments for that.

                Do you see the problem with people taking offense at a black James Bond? It’s the same problem. Narrow-mindedness, ignorance and bigotry. Why should producers take calls for casting more black actors in roles written for whites seriously from the black community, when it thinks shades of black should disqualify a capable actress? Of course it’s hypocrisy.

                I don’t care about James Bond, because he isn’t real. I would probably have a problem if they had Elba play James Bond in whiteface, or if they materially lightened his skin via makeup to play Bond however.

                Once again, don’t think it is hypocrisy. The custom for pretty much all black biopics, is simply to ignore differences in shade. There is a pretty far distance in skin tone between Rosa Parks/Tina Turner and Angela Basset. Yet no one felt the need to lighten her up. Malcolm X had light skin, red hair and gray eyes, yet Denzel managed to play him without lightening his skin tone. So normally, Zoe Saldana would just play Nina Simone as-is without the black make-up, maybe with a prosthetic nose, maybe not, and no one would care that much. But because Nina Simone made her dark skin color such a public part of her life’s story, Zoe couldn’t get away with the customary way of doing things. Which at that point, should have been her first clue that this was probably not the right character for her.

                Imagine a movie about a black historical figure who campaigned against white actors portraying black characters in blackface. And the producers decided to cast a white actor to play the character…in blackface. Of course there is going to be some blowback. Even if that white actor was the best ever, the irony of it all is just too much. By casting Saldana, it’s almost as if the producers were trolling their audience. Yet the film seems like a perfectly straightforward biopic otherwise. Just a tone-deaf one.

              • And names, please: what dark skinned actors have been passed over? Poitier is dark. Cicily Tyson has had a good career. Prove there’s light vs dark bias, divorced from talent. The difference is that light skinned women can pay a role and have it be essentially race-less. A Jessica Alba can swing both ways. Viola Davis is unequivocally black. She still gets a lot of work. I understand why blacks are obsessed with race and see it as a factor in all things. In this case, they are turning that attitude against each other.

                I just saw this addendum to your comment. This a list of the top ten black actress of 2015: http://sportrichlist.com/top10/highest-paid-black-actresses/

                Of the ten, a full seven are light-skinned, biracial/multiracial actresses, far out of proportion to their numbers among the black population. Only one, Gabrielle Union, could be considered dark-skinned. Jessica Alba is not a black actress at all, but white/Native American/Jewish. She just takes black roles in a pinch due to her racial ambiguity. Viola Davis has been very, very vocal about her struggles as a dark-skinned, broad-featured actress in Hollywood, if you want to read what she has to say about it. You can also read the NYT article about her, “classic beauty”, and the reaction to it, if you have time.

                And note, light-skinned black women cannot play a “race-less” role. There is no such thing. The word you are searching for is “white.” Light-skinned black women are occasionally allowed to play roles that are usually reserved for white women. Why it would be any harder for a dark-skinned actress to play such a role as well, is not to be examined by anyone, of course.

            • “Blackface is a type of theatrical makeup used to signify a black person.”

              I’ll hold you to that definition. Note that blackface isn’t meant to make a person look like a real black person, only to signify it, in the same way that the little pictures of people outside bathrooms aren’t meant to look like real people, but rather are meant to signify people.

              If a black person is wearing makeup to make themselves look like a “blacker” person for cinematic purposes, that’s not the makeup “signifying” that they are darker-skinned. That’s a realistic mimicry (or a genuine attempt at one) of another person’s appearance. It’s the difference between a portrait and a caricature.

              On the other hand, doesn’t that mean that it’s actually better for Saldana to be made to look like Simone than not to be? That way the image of a darker-skinned, broader-nosed human is popularized in the mainstream media, where otherwise it wouldn’t be. That image will have any charisma that Saldana brings as well.

              Do I think it would be better if there were a larger selection of famous darker-skinned, broad-nosed actresses so that one of them could have landed the part? Absolutely. Do I think that the mainstream concept of an ideal face contributed to that not being the case? I’m not ruling it out. All the more benefit to seeing a minority face in a position of prominence, though it be made up. It’d be cool if this led to more actresses who actually looked like Simone. I hope she’d consider this an acceptable price for that.

              I do wonder, though, whether they couldn’t find a skilled, experienced person who looked more like Simone. Statistically, I would predict there would have to be at least one. I don’t have the knowledge to pass judgment on the actual casting one way or another; I can only judge the use of makeup.

              • Note that blackface isn’t meant to make a person look like a real black person, only to signify it, in the same way that the little pictures of people outside bathrooms aren’t meant to look like real people, but rather are meant to signify people.

                Damn. So that’s why I never saw any girls in those little triangle skirts!

                (A telling analogy. Hope Deery saw it.)

    • https://ethicsalarms.com/2015/08/05/othello-ethics-when-political-correctness-is-unethical/#comment-345873

      https://ethicsalarms.com/2015/08/05/othello-ethics-when-political-correctness-is-unethical/#comment-345882

      You’ll never find an actor/actress that matches 100% of the characteristics of the individual portrayed. It’s all an optimizing and balancing act. I don’t for the life of me see why you think width of nose and tone of skin trump all other qualities being considered, when technology can make up (literally) the difference of some of the qualities the actor/actress don’t meet…such as appearance.

      • You’ll never find an actor/actress that matches 100% of the characteristics of the individual portrayed. It’s all an optimizing and balancing act. I don’t for the life of me see why you think width of nose and tone of skin trump all other qualities being considered, when technology can make up (literally) the difference of some of the qualities the actor/actress don’t meet…such as appearance.

        I think there are several issues at play. Nina Simone was famous for campaigning against the erasure of dark-skinned black women with broad features from the media. It is one of the things that she is very well-known for. So people have a problem with a light-skinned actress being cast to play her, highlighting the very problem that Simone stood against. There is also the history of blackface. It is against standard convention in black biopics to fiddle with the actor’s complexion to match the subject’s, mostly because of the history (I’m assuming here) of blackface, and so people probably would have been somewhat uncomfortable with the skin darkening no matter what, but especially so because it is Nina Simone as the subject. Also, both the makeup, and the nose prosthesis are really, really bad from what I have seen so far. The Simone estate has opposed this biopic for some time, and has been very vocal about it. The intersection of all those factors together causes a bit of buzz, but isn’t just as simple as, “She doesn’t look like Nina Simone.” Angela Bassett resembles Tina Turner not at all, was widely lauded for her portrayal by everyone, and got an Academy Award nomination for it (note they did not even attempt to match her skin tone to Tina’s).

        • This is precisely the paradox of racial identity politics: “Nina Simone was famous for campaigning against the erasure of dark-skinned black women with broad features from the media. It is one of the things that she is very well-known for. So people have a problem with a light-skinned actress being cast to play her, highlighting the very problem that Simone stood against.” So, if I understand the argument, Simone campaigned against racial discrimination of darker-skinned blacks. The only way to honor that struggle is to cast a darker-skinned actress to portray her? That sounds like an impossible standard to meet.

          jvb

        • “Nina Simone was famous for campaigning against the erasure of dark-skinned black women with broad features from the media.”

          So Nina Simone was against actively selecting AGAINST darker actresses with broad features. Was she also against actively selecting FOR the best actresses to fit roles?

          Because otherwise, she wouldn’t have protested the use of Zoe Saldana to play her character, unless it can be proven that those doing the casting decided that an equally OR better skilled actress of darker complexion and broader features was actively screened out BECAUSE of those features. In which case, the argument against for the reasons you cite falls apart.

          “The Simone estate has opposed this biopic for some time, and has been very vocal about it.”

          Irrelevant.

          “There is also the history of blackface.”

          Also irrelevant, as this isn’t an instance of black face. And anyone making the link is using an emotion-based argument, and falters just like TGT did here.

  5. “…Simone’s racial identity was a crucial part of her life.”

    Well, gosh, that’s a good point. And I imagine being born in the 1930s was also a crucial part of her life. We’d better look for an octogenarian actress.

    You know what? I’ll bet being herself was a crucial part of her life. We should have her play herself. Except since she is no longer alive, we can’t make a movie about her. In fact, to be fair to all historical figures, we shouldn’t make any movies about real people unless they can play themselves. That way they can be authentic.

    Because, you know, it’s not as if the entire concept of acting is based on pretending to be someone you’re not.

    The above probably won’t convince any of the aggressively self-victimizing people, but darn if it wasn’t fun to write.

  6. That dwarf scenario occurred in one of the Snow White movies: normal size actors were shortened by computer effects. The same was done in the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, with camera tricks, to shorten John Rys-Davies So what?

    I know, because I specifically pointed that out. But dwarves and hobbits aren’t real people. Should Ryan Reynolds play Peter Dinklage in a biopic? Should Dinklage play Shaq in Shaq’s biopic? Probably not, because that would be ridiculous. And people, rightly, would point out how ridiculous and stupid that is.

    2. “The only reason to darken Zoe Saldana’s skin is precisely because that is one of the key points about Nina Simone,” The reason to use make-up is the same reason make-up has always been used: to look the part.

    Yes, they are using makeup to darken Zoe Saldana’s skin to resemble Nina Simone’s skin. Because of Nina Simone’s activism regarding the erasure of dark-skinned, broad-featured black women in the media, many people are uncomfortable with that. They also find it uncomfortable because of the history of blackface, and the fact that, traditionally, such things are not done to black actors to play other black actors.

    . “It is a pretty sensitive subject within the black community” Yes, because they find MLK’s “color of our skin” statement problematical when skin color bigotry fits their agendas. It’s massive hypocrisy, of course.

    No, I don’t think feeling uncomfortable with the history of blackface is hypocrisy. If the color of the skin makes no difference, then why darken the skin at all, especially given that it is not normally done? Because the color of Nina Simone’s skin is important. Why not a white actress in blackface to play Nina Simone? Why not just have Zoe Saldana, without the makeup as usually done? Because a large portion of Nina Simone’s story would not make sense without it. As such, people can rightly criticize the ironic choice producers made in choosing Saldana to play Nina Simone.

    4.An actress needn’t feel as their subject does. If a director thinks you can do the part, then you should play it, unless you are certain you can’t play it. She’s got the ability, and looks are irrelevant. Thanks to make-up.

    You did ask “what if Zoe Saldana felt the same as Nina Simone?” If she did, then she should have bowed out. Sometimes an actor has to know within themselves whether or not they can play the part. Especially an actress like Saldana, who has plenty of roles offered to her. She has to weigh not just the role, but public reaction to the role, and bankability. I’m pretty sure she does not take every role that is offered to her. And her bankability and goodwill has taken a hit from her choosing this role. Which, IMO, was entirely predictable.

    • 1. But dwarves and hobbits aren’t real people. Should Ryan Reynolds play Peter Dinklage in a biopic? Should Dinklage play Shaq in Shaq’s biopic? Probably not, because that would be ridiculous. And people, rightly, would point out how ridiculous and stupid that is.

      I don’t acknowledge your arbitrary “real vs fiction” distinction. If the choice to play Hagrid isn’t a real giant, and the special effects make him look like one and it works, doing the same to have a real 5′ actor play Kareem is no better or worse. Does it work? That’s all that matters.

      2.Because of Nina Simone’s activism regarding the erasure of dark-skinned, broad-featured black women in the media, many people are uncomfortable with that.

      Well, they need to grow up, because it is not germane to the casting choice.

      3.They also find it uncomfortable because of the history of blackface, and the fact that, traditionally, such things are not done to black actors to play other black actors.

      There’s that “it may not be blackface, but it reminds some people of blackface” argument. We’re in Niggardly territory now. And that;s not why blacks don’t typically alter their skin tone, any more than whites playing whites do. Most people don’t notice or care. I went through that. In this case, it matters. Hence make-up.

      4. Why not a white actress in blackface to play Nina Simone?
      From an artistic standpoint? That would be fine.

      5. Actors want to act. So far, Saldana has been blue and green in roles? Why should she be afraid to be black?

      • I don’t acknowledge your arbitrary “real vs fiction” distinction. If the choice to play Hagrid isn’t a real giant, and the special effects make him look like one and it works, doing the same to have a real 5′ actor play Kareem is no better or worse. Does it work? That’s all that matters.

        Nope. That is not all that matters. Perhaps for their home movie, shown to a few friends, but for a Hollywood picture, in wide release, they can hardly make an argument that only the art matters. The producers/studio have thought about what has a good chance of making money, what might bring them some goodwill, who they like to work with, what might be given some awards, etc. Their considerations are not all artistic ones.

        There is a dearth of 8 foot tall fictional giants out there to cast. So producers have to make do. There is not a dearth of dark-skinned black actresses out there. They are real, and plentiful. If your potential audience is openly rebelling against Saldana as portrayed in the previews, with her black makeup on, and fake nose, then it doesn’t work, even going by your definition.

        .They also find it uncomfortable because of the history of blackface, and the fact that, traditionally, such things are not done to black actors to play other black actors.

        There’s that “it may not be blackface, but it reminds some people of blackface” argument. We’re in Niggardly territory now. And that;s not why blacks don’t typically alter their skin tone, any more than whites playing whites do. Most people don’t notice or care. I went through that. In this case, it matters. Hence make-up.

        I think most black people notice and/or care about skin tone in other black people, especially with women (see, e.g. Dark Girls, Light Girls documentaries, or Spike Lee’s School Daze). It is the subject of many memes, scholarly work, and articles. I think perhaps they needed someone who was better versed in the African-American community and culture to serve as a consultant who might have advised them of this. If the producers don’t care, then that is fine, but what is there to complain about a perfectly predictable reaction?

        5. Actors want to act. So far, Saldana has been blue and green in roles? Why should she be afraid to be black?

        There aren’t any actors from planet Zebulon that she is taking roles from. Nor is there a history of Zebulonians being denied roles, called ugly, and being passed over for human actors instead. Saldana can play whomever she wishes, however she likes. But she is not immune from criticism for the roles she chooses to take, how she plays it, and the choices she makes to portray the character, especially if the character is supposed to represent a real person. And the film and producers are not above such criticism either. That is also a cost of doing business.

        • 1. I never defined “work” as just art…it’s art and commerce. You can’t yield to sabotage, however, which is what the campaign against Saldana is. It’s funny: you are endorsing exactly the argument used to avoid casting blacks in major roles for decades. The critics of this casting don’t care about Simone or the actress. It’s a powerplay, as these faux protests always are.

          2. “If your potential audience is openly rebelling against Saldana as portrayed in the previews, with her black makeup on, and fake nose, then it doesn’t work, even going by your definition.” Except that this is a tiny percentage of the target market, spreading bile to the rest.

          3. “There is not a dearth of dark-skinned black actresses out there. They are real, and plentiful.” If a director thinks that this actress is the best one for the job, the other actresses by definition are not what he wants or needs. You are substituting your imagines expertise for the artist. He obviously didn’t think any dark-skinned actresses would be as good as the actress he cast, and perhaps that casting on skin shade was anti-civil rights and mirroring bigotry—which it is.

          4. “I think most black people notice and/or care about skin tone in other black people, especially with women” Yup, blacks are bigots and irrational too. No reason to submit to it or enable it.

          5. “what is there to complain about a perfectly predictable reaction?” It is essential to note when black hypocrisy undermines the community’s position in other aspects of civil rights. Do we want to see societal bias based on color or not?

          6. She’s not taking a role from anyone. It’s her role. She was cast. A darker actress has no claim on the role.

          • 1. I never defined “work” as just art…it’s art and commerce. You can’t yield to sabotage, however, which is what the campaign against Saldana is. It’s funny: you are endorsing exactly the argument used to avoid casting blacks in major roles for decades. The critics of this casting don’t care about Simone or the actress. It’s a powerplay, as these faux protests always are.

            I think the most vocal critics, especially Simone’s family, do care indeed about Simone’s legacy. Others just have a visceral reaction after seeing the makeup and nose from the trailer.

            2. “If your potential audience is openly rebelling against Saldana as portrayed in the previews, with her black makeup on, and fake nose, then it doesn’t work, even going by your definition.” Except that this is a tiny percentage of the target market, spreading bile to the rest.

            Perhaps, though if this all a tempest in a teapot, we shall know soon enough. Either such criticisms resonate with a larger audience, or they won’t.

            3. “There is not a dearth of dark-skinned black actresses out there. They are real, and plentiful.” If a director thinks that this actress is the best one for the job, the other actresses by definition are not what he wants or needs. You are substituting your imagines expertise for the artist. He obviously didn’t think any dark-skinned actresses would be as good as the actress he cast, and perhaps that casting on skin shade was anti-civil rights and mirroring bigotry—which it is.

            Well, I think all criticism substitutes one person’s judgment for the artist. That’s basically how criticism works. I don’t think it would be bigotry to note that perhaps Lucy Liu playing MLK straight would not be a good idea. Lucy Liu playing MLK straight in black makeup would be a *really* not good idea. Just cast a black guy if you have to put your performer through all that. It strains believability, and takes people out of the willing suspension of disbelief if they are spending most of the time marveling at the bad makeup job on your actor.

            Skin tone and shade can and should be a consideration, depending on the role, without “mirroring bigotry”. I don’t think Viola Davis should have been cast as Queenie, a black woman who can pass for white, in that biopic, for example. And in this case, Saldana probably should not have been cast as Simone.

            4. “I think most black people notice and/or care about skin tone in other black people, especially with women” Yup, blacks are bigots and irrational too. No reason to submit to it or enable it.

            I think this is where cultural competency comes into play. White culture, when describing men and women, places a heavy emphasis on eye color and hair color differences. Newspaper descriptions of a person will start out with, “She was a vivacious blonde, blue-eyed…” Black people work similarly with skin tone I’ve noticed. One of the things that instantly struck me is that you can immediately tell a book written by a black person, because they do to take the time to describe the skin tone of a black person (and it is almost never “mocha”). They might say “blue-black, seal red, almond, ashy, tea-colored, etc.” Descriptions of black people by white writers tend to just say “black.” Rarely, if they are feeling frisky, “chocolate”, “coffee” or “mocha” for the regular black characters, “café au lait” for the biracial one. Hairstyles and texture are also described in more detail in black novels. I don’t think that is bigotry.

            5. “what is there to complain about a perfectly predictable reaction?” It is essential to note when black hypocrisy undermines the community’s position in other aspects of civil rights. Do we want to see societal bias based on color or not?

            I don’t see the undermining in this case. Saldana was not the correct actress for this role, not f she has to darken her skin to do it correctly. Sometimes actors don’t have the right physicality to play a given part. Them’s the breaks. It isn’t ageism to suggest that perhaps a 60 year old actress isn’t correct for a straight rendition of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Or fat-shaming to suggest Rebel Wilson playing Karen Carpenter is not a wise choice. Such is the case with Saldana.

            6. She’s not taking a role from anyone. It’s her role. She was cast. A darker actress has no claim on the role.

            Agreed. Once cast, the role is hers, for better or worse. However, this is probably a role that should have gone to a darker skinned black actress, for may reason outlined earlier. Failing that, they should have just skipped the skin-darkening makeup. The results are just as ludicrous either way, but Saldana could have saved herself from cringing when she looks back at pictures of herself in that role in the decades to come.

            • 4. “I think most black people notice and/or care about skin tone in other black people, especially with women” Yup, blacks are bigots and irrational too. No reason to submit to it or enable it.

              This points out the inherent irrationality of racial identity politics. For instance, the Oscars came under fire because no blacks were nominated for awards in the various categories, allegedly demonstrating Hollywood’s disdain and inherent racial and racist biases against blacks. Now, Saldana is cast as Nina Simone and it has become racialized (is that a word?) because she is not black enough. You can’t have it both ways; Either Saldana gives a competent performance as Simone or not. The decree of melanin in her skin is spectacularly irrelevant to her performance, unless only the right skin tones and racial identifiers are the fundamental criteria by which a person is cast in a role or hired in the workplace.

              Doesn’t this whole kerfuffle fly in the face of race-neutral hiring practices in the marketplace? Or are employers (and movie producers and directors are really nothing more than highly paid human resource managers) now required to ensure that all skin tones are equally and appropriately represented in corporate hiring practices. Should there then be an employment litmus test to identify sufficient minority candidates based on their skin tones relative to the population? Should, then, the Civil Rights Act of 1964be amended to express Congress’ desire that a spectrum of skin tones should be present in all companies? After a certain point, it becomes absurd and unproductive.

              jvb

              • The decree of melanin in her skin is spectacularly irrelevant to her performance, unless only the right skin tones and racial identifiers are the fundamental criteria by which a person is cast in a role or hired in the workplace.

                If that was the case, then why did they feel the need to darken her skin? Why not just leave it as is?

                A large portion of Simone’s life (a plot point, if you will), revolves around the fact that she is, in fact, a dark-skinned black woman with broad features and that she campaigns actively against the marginalization of such women in the media. So it is quite inaccurate to say that it doesn’t matter for this particular character. While I agree that most times complexion gradients don’t matter all that much, it actually does matter in this instance.

                • “If that was the case, then why did they feel the need to darken her skin? Why not just leave it as is?” I explained that. It’s a valid choice to make her look more like Simone. Using make-up in a performance is hardly a smoking gun. Now, if you want to ask why Mariel Hemingway was cast as Dorothy Stratton, requiring the actress to get breast implants when competent, busty blondes are under every rock in Hollywood, that’s a better question…but even then, the director saw qualities in Mariel that he felt were more important than her figure—but her figure had to be dealt with. Maybe Saldana said she wanted the make-up to feel more like Simone: lots of actors use make-up that way.

                  • “If that was the case, then why did they feel the need to darken her skin? Why not just leave it as is?” I explained that. It’s a valid choice to make her look more like Simone.

                    It is against convention. But more importantly, a large portion of the film probably wouldn’t make much sense without Saldana darkening her skin considerably. Unless they were planning on skipping over Simone’s activism for dark-skinned, broad featured women like herself.

                    • Make-up is the convention. You are arguing that an exception to a convention is a convention. There is no precedent, ergo no convention is applicable.

                      Of course there is plenty of precedent. See e.g. all the other black biopics where they did not materially alter the complexion of the actor, no matter how far apart the two are in real life.

                      The convention is not to materially alter the complexion to make the black actor more closely resemble the subject, even if the two are not similar. The Nina Simone film broke with this convention.

                    • That’s not precedent. Precedent would be not using make-up when the individual being portrayed made a big deal about his or her particular shade of skin. Since its such a strange and silly and divisive thing to do, I’m not surprised the situation hasn’t been raised before.

  7. Folks (to use one of our President’s favorite down-home-isms) seem to have painted themselves into a corner here. Not everyone can be authentically “black.” Unless it’s okay. Beyonce’s okay even though she’s arguably not really black because she’s part Creole and, some argue, primarily successful because she doesn’t have really dark skin. President Barack Obama is okay, even though his mother was white and his father was from Kenya, which is the deep south of the wrong continent, unless you’re Jesse Jackson, Sr. in which case the President’s not okay and you want to “cut his nuts off.” Halle Berry is okay, sometimes, even though her mother is white. Michael Jackson was okay even though he had his skin whitened, or else had a disease that did it for him, and he had his nose whittled down to nothing at all. How many different actors would you need to cast for “The Life of Michael Jackson?” Melissa Harris-Perry is authentically black because she evidently says so, even though her mother is white and a Mormon, “you know,” as Hillary Clinton would say, just like Mitt Romney.

    I think Martin Luther King realized all the dangers and distractions this kind of thinking presents and had it right. The color of one’s skin shouldn’t matter. The content of one’s character should. Instead, we’re all living here on the slopes of Mount Racial Outrage, dodging the lava flows.

    • Other Bill writes: “I think Martin Luther King realized all the dangers and distractions this kind of thinking presents and had it right. The color of one’s skin shouldn’t matter. The content of one’s character should. Instead, we’re all living here on the slopes of Mount Racial Outrage, dodging the lava flows.”
      _____________________

      The operative word there, and the one upon which so much hinges, is *shouldn’t*. A ‘should’ is an imperative and it comes from outside of us. It is an imposition on and an attempt to mediate/manage a instinctive relationship to the question of physical and racial differences, which then branch outward into cultural differences, capabilities, designs and interests. The imperative that MLK functioned with was, of course, a Christian/Universal imperative, and that imperative has a life in the life of the American nation. It is the ‘proposition’ to which one *should* become dedicated. Yet it is a truer truth to say it is not the real imperative by which people live.

      It *feels* to me nearly impossible to broach and carry on an ‘open’ conversation about the racial issues which are bubbling and simmering close to the surface.

      Once one begins to turn against the present ideological dispensation which manages and mediates what one can say – and think – about racial (and cultural and ethic) issues and questions, one enters a very difficult territory of attempting to philosophically define difference. To explain, essentially, a racialist posture. A ‘white identity’ posture in our present, except on the fringe, is prohibited.

      Arguments from ‘definition and analogy’ are stronger, and are said to be more ethical, than arguments from ‘consequence and circumstance’, and to gain – or regain – an arguable ground, a philosophically defensible ground that is also ethical, requires philosophical work.

      What is the philosophical basis of the (essentially) Christian argument? I mean, the argument of MLK. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

      Truthfully, such a rhetorical and I think sentimental construct implies a philosophical argument but does not, itself, make that argument. To be black and to have a black identity means to keep being black and to keep having a black identity. To be white and have a white identity means to keep being white and to keep having a white identity. And so on and so forth. Essentially, to surrender the differences is to choose to blend, for on what basis would one choose separateness? How would that argument be structured?

      The project of ‘blending’ and of ‘agreeing to a proposition’, is less a studied philosophical position but one rooted in sentiment, it seems to me. The sentiment has roots in contingency and circumstance, not in strict philosophical definitions. The project is managed by cultural managers who come from an ideological position which is not (as far as I know) stated philosophically, but presented and enforced propagandistically (rhetorically). Why is this? Why does the rhetorical presentation become a PR presentation when the *facts* should be self-explanatory and convincing (persuasive)?

      The entire issue is managed by cultural management team, as it were, and to have a contrary position, to define a contrary position or a different one, is to turn against time itself (time as progress). It is to turn against what is felt to be ‘right’ and ‘good’ and ‘necessary’. Against inevitability.

      • There seems to be a huge project underway to eliminate imperatives from our culture. Big mistake, I think. We need to aspire to greater things.

        • The idea I was attempting had to do with the issue and problem of the philosophical structure (how else should one put it?) required in order to be able to define an ‘imperative’.

          In this sense, your comment “There seems to be a huge project underway to eliminate imperatives from our culture. Big mistake, I think. We need to aspire to greater things” is an example of an argument not from principle but from contingency. Essentially, it is an emotional plea.

          I cannot – yet – make many definitive statements and tend to thrash around as I try to work out understandings. But at least in my own mind I think I have gained an important insight over the last couple of days. King’s argumentation is religious and rhetorical argumentation since – it would seem – a religiously-inspired message is a plea to the emotional side of man. We should be ‘good’ We should be thus-and-such. And the ‘argument’ is a mushy, indistinct pandering to the emotional, sentimental and perhaps I can say the ‘desire’ side of people.

          In attempting a conversation with Tex on another thread – a conversation he avoided – I was forced to reconsider the question of message and Christian content in some popular songs from the Sixties. The content is beautiful content: ‘We are but a moment’s sunlight fading in the grass’ … ‘If you hear the song I’m singing, you can sing it too’. Or: ‘Then can I walk beside you /
          I have come here to lose the smog / And I feel to be a cog in something turning’. Or: ‘We are stardust / Billion year old carbon / We are golden
          Caught in the devil’s bargain / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden’.

          When set to music and sung all together in a social sway it has a power similar to hymn, which of course cannot be discounted, but yet when looked at from another angle is, essentially, a rhetorical position which plays to the emotional side of people. While it cannot be said to be devoid of idea – there are numerous ideas behind it – they are ideas which if examined very rigorously do not, or in any case may not always, stand up to reason.

          In reading the NYTs this AM (here I make a leap toward a conclusive statement) I read a recap of the democratic debate. Apparently, they are fighting over a Spanish-speaking demographic. And the Big Bad Wolf is of course (among many things, I certainly admit) a man who is saying, in essence, uncontrolled immigration must be stopped and controlled. The IDEA is perfectly sound and no person could – or *should* – ever lose a debate when such a solid idea is debated well. But what if there are no hearers there to hear? What if the *emotional content* of those listeners is fastened into sentiments and desires, and which are supported by contingent arguments, and a whole rhetorical content? There is no way for *idea* to compete against *sentiment*, and so it appears that the use of a rhetorical (*imperative* / *should*) structure is where the perversion and the corruption creeps in. Once one has gained something (influenced someone, gotten one’s way in some context) through the use of those tactics, which easily become demagogic, it seems to happen that they will be employed time and time again.

          As I said: We appear to be subjects of a culture that is overlorded by PR Managers, people schooled in the use of rhetorical methods of persuasion. It has become so pervasive and so bold-faced that one can say that the whole culture is swamped, steeped and sweating in ‘circumstance and contingency’.

          I don’t know, yet, how to decide the issue philosophically, but there are questions about the the idea-structure in our ‘propositional assumptions’. A *proposition* functions I think similarly to an *imperative* as I understand things. (Here is a critique that defines elements of this issue: http://archive.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=24240). All men are created equal in the sense that they sprout out of a womb and breathe air, but in no other sense are they ‘equal’, and thus the premise is categorically false, yet we live in the regime of such a false idea.

          And the rest is demagoguery.

          To recover, therefor, the idea-bases upon which it is possible to build solid structures which will not be dissolved by contingency and contingent argument, by seduction of emotion, by false-premise – is the core of a conservative project.

          But I think it is well understood that ‘conservatism’ has failed insofar as it can only survive if it, too, panders to the emotional side of man, a side that does not really care about IDEA but simply wants what it wants. And with this it appears that the ‘conservative right’ has been seduced and will continue to be seduced by the demagogic Left as it prostitutes itself to moods in the constituency.

          What is the role of Sixties Radicalism in this is the first part of my question? And the second part is: How to define a ‘true conservative PHILOSOPHICAL platform’ but yet which might be spiritual, capable of understanding beauty, but yet wisely (whatever that may mean) employs rhetoric in the service of correctly structured ideas. (That is my interpretation of Richard Weaver’s project).

          It is not AT ALL that *imperatives* have been eliminated then – in fact they have reproduced like bunnies – it is that it is not possible to construct a structure of sound idea within a collapsed, seduced people. The imperatives that move them … are the wrong ones. Or perversions of the right ones.

          • PS: “We need to aspire to greater things.”

            It seems to me that no one (a broad statement I know!) has any idea at all how to define ‘greater things’.

            It also seems to me that if one were to ask people what ‘greater things’ mean, they would speak of contingencies: immediate desires in the present.

  8. Putting aside Deery’s excellent points, I’d like point out something that drives me crazy — I think actors should sing their own songs in movies. If you have to be dubbed, you shouldn’t get the role.

    • 1. So you agree that skin color should disqualify an actor from being cast, and that dark make-up is racist, even when used by a black actor? Wow. Anything to avoid admitting that black activists are eating their own, and operating on a double standard, eh? That’s integrity. It must be hard being a progressive, when it makes you endorse nonsense like that.

      2. Should actors have to do their own stunts, too? When Christopher Plummer heard his voice played back singing “Edelweiss,” he begged the producers to dub him. Should they have fired him? Would that have made “The Sound of Music” better? Did you watch Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd, and how the score was massacred by non-singers? Did that make those movies better? What an awful idea.

      • There are many points where I agree with Deery here, but I am only opening a can of worms about singing, so let’s talk about that.

        Les Mis was thoroughly enjoyable but for Russel Crowe. He should have been replaced. There are plenty of actor/singers who could have done that role. Sweeney Todd was awful — but again, it’s because the wrong casting decisions were made. Blame the director and the casting director for those calls. Sound of Music was wonderful — and Christopher Plummer famously hated EVERYTHING about the movie until very recently. I thought his voice — although not strong — was full of emotion and added to the role.

        I’ll flip this on you and ask you to address one of the more famous snubs in cinema — Julie Andrews not getting the lead in My Fair Lady. Was Audrey Hepburn wonderful? Yes, but she couldn’t sing — and it definitely took away from the movie that she was mostly dubbed. It was obvious and distracting. At the same time, the fabulous Rex Harrison was terrific in the movie because he acted and sang — it makes the performance more genuine. Julie Andrews would have been far better in Audrey’s role.

        As for stunts, it’s a ridiculous straw man. Taking away the fact that most stunts are computer-animated now anyway, most people (actors included) can’t jump off of cliffs or drive cars through rings of fire or whatever other nonsense is in action films these days. But, there are many, many actors who can not only act, but sing and dance as well. It’s an easier casting call.

        • Yay! We disagree.

          ”As for stunts, it’s a ridiculous straw man. Taking away the fact that most stunts are computer-animated now anyway, most people (actors included) can’t jump off of cliffs or drive cars through rings of fire or whatever other nonsense is in action films these days.”

          Was particularly egregious, so I’m going to focus on it. Singing is a skill. I can’t sing… Well… Or so people tell me…. Often. I try anyway. But it, like stunt work take something more than acting to master. Your abrupt dismissal of the comparison hits me as a combination of a lack of thought and partisan hackery. To use other examples: Should Benedict Cumberbatch not been cast as Alan Turing because he couldn’t do higher level math? Would someone playing Van Gogh by necessity need to be an accomplished painter? Preferably one who was under-appreciated? Maybe with cut off ears?

          I just don’t think that’s reasonable… We call them actors because they act something out. They aren’t singers, or painters, or writers or geniuses. Singers and painters and writers and geniuses are busy singing, painting, writing, and solving the mysteries of the world.

          I`ll also never forgive you for Sweeney Todd, I loved that movie.

          • Singers are incredibly talented, but there are a lot of them — and many of them tend to congregate in Los Angeles and New York — probably outside of casting directors and agents’ houses. They can, and should, be put into singing roles when appropriate.

            I was just thinking of stunt-like actors, like Steven Segal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. There are others of course. These types of movies are not my favorite, but they ring truer because the actors are actually doing many of the stunts. Don’t you agree?

            As for geniuses — well, if there was a movie being made about a genius, and there was an otherwise qualified actor up for the role who also happened to be a wiley-e-coyote-super-genius, my guess is that he or she might be more believable in the role. But given that the majority of the audience doesn’t understand the higher math calculations, statistical analysis, etc. being done in movies, I don’t think it takes away much to have a non-genius cast. However, we all do have ears, so singing is something that we do recognize.

            Your Sweeney Todd comment has me concerned for your sanity.

            • “I was just thinking of stunt-like actors, like Steven Segal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. There are others of course. These types of movies are not my favorite, but they ring truer because the actors are actually doing many of the stunts. Don’t you agree?”

              Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan! Of course I agree that it makes a difference if the person does their own stunts, or sings or adds their personal experience to a role.

              But that can’t be ALL there is to it. A real cannibal probably could have added something to the role of Hannibal Lecter, but Anthony Hopkins knocked that role out of the park, and didn’t commit any crimes in the process! The ability to act is the most important skill for an actor to have, after that, there are things that make an individual more or less appealing. For whatever reason, the casting director thought Saldina was a better choice than the nameless, faceless, able to sing, actress with the appropriate amount of melanin that critics seem to think should have been cast.

            • It’s an aside I guess Beth, but when the Wiley E Coyote saga is finally made into a full-length feature, I think that Alan Arkin (as in ‘The Heart is Lonely Hunter’) is the obvious choice for the over-dub. But I’m sure SOMEONE will come along to say that that’s inappropriate.

        • 1. Oh, please. Get your ears checked. There were many vocal atrocities in that Le Miz, including Hugh Jackman’s embarrassing “Bring him home” which he affirmatively could not sing.

          2.” I thought his voice — although not strong — was full of emotion and added to the role.” THAT’S BECAUSE IT WASN’T HIS VOICE!!! I assumed you knew that: he hated how he sounded, and they dubbed him.. The singer was a man named Bill Lee. That was my point. Was Plummer’s acting worth dubbing him? Of course it was.

          3. Picking what is generally acknowledged as the worst casting mistake in musical movie history isn’t a fair test. The same dubbed voice, Marni Nixon, nailed Deborah Kerr in “The King and I.” Same thing: was it worth it to have Kerr do the role? Sure. It was a highlight of her career.

          4. I don’t need to go here to win this debate, but your rule would make credible bio-pics about singers with unique voices impossible. Jamie Foxx is a musician and singer, but NOBODY sounds like Ray Charles, so he had to lip sync to Charles’ voice. Same with the Jolson Story: All Jolson couldn’t be imitated, and worse, he was alive and still singing. He dubbed Larry Parks. No Sinatra movie could survive unless it used Frank’s voice; ditto Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole. Wait—since Jamie Foxx can sing, would your rule say that it’s OK for him to be dubbed? That would be an interesting argument: singers can be dubbed, but non-singers can’t.

          5. “Dubbing” stunts is exactly the same. Even now, lots of actors do their own stunts. It’s a physical ability, just like singing.

          • I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject of non-singers being cast and not doing their own singing. I can see arguments in both directions.

            I just wanted to make on small point: 4. I don’t need to go here to win this debate, but your rule would make credible bio-pics about singers with unique voices impossible. Jamie Foxx is a musician and singer, but NOBODY sounds like Ray Charles, so he had to lip sync to Charles’ voice. …Wait—since Jamie Foxx can sing, would your rule say that it’s OK for him to be dubbed? That would be an interesting argument: singers can be dubbed, but non-singers can’t.

            Jamie Foxx actually sounds amazingly a lot like Ray Charles, when he puts his mind to it. Listen to him sing the intro to Kanye’s “Gold Digger” song, where Foxx gives a mocking remix of Charles’s “I Got A Woman” song. I guess that is the advantage of being an impressionist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGidYBqBHVw

          • “Picking what is generally acknowledged as the worst casting mistake in musical movie history isn’t a fair test.”

            But see, you just proved my point. Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful, talented actress. The only reason that she wasn’t right for the role is because she couldn’t sing — at all. And Julie Andrews — who also was beautiful and talented AND could sing was available to do the part.

            If singing ability were irrelevant, no one would think that Ms. Hepburn constituted a casting mistake.

            • It was a political and cultural mistake, highlighted when Julie debuted in “Mary Poppins.” The movie, you’ll recall, won Best Picture and was a hit. She just wasn’t Julie. The dubbed singing? Few cared. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. From Wiki: My Fair Lady currently holds a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The general consensus states: “Fans of the play may miss Julie Andrews in the starring role—particularly when Marni Nixon’s singing comes out of Audrey Hepburn’s mouth—but the film’s charm is undeniable.”[11] Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, and, in 2006, he put it on his “Great Movies” list, praising Hepburn’s performance, and calling the film “the best and most unlikely of musicals.”[12]

              Everybody wanted to see Andrews in the role she made famous. That doesn’t mean Hepburn was a disastrous choice, it was just an unpopular one.

              • I feel you are deliberately being obtuse on this. Julie Andrews made the role famous on stage because she was a fantastic singer!

                Interestingly, I recently learned that Rex Harrison tried to have Julie Andrews kicked out because he didn’t feel she had the acting chops.

      • I don’t have a problem with “dubbing” to make a movie, but can we at least agree that if the parts of a single role are created by mixing multiple performers, then an acting nomination should either be disqualified or should include all of the performers for the role? So, if Zoe isn’t singing, a nomination for her should be a “shared nomination” for her and the singer? (Not sure if they’re using existing Simone recordings or if they brought in a talent to perform.)

  9. To me this breaks down that people don’t think she is “black” enough, what ever the hell that means, so they are using this as an opportunity to attack her.

    Its the old house nigger argument, she isn’t one of us so she must be a house nigger.

    Its bullshit and its racist.

    • To me this breaks down that people don’t think she is “black” enough, what ever the hell that means, so they are using this as an opportunity to attack her.

      Its the old house nigger argument, she isn’t one of us so she must be a house nigger.

      Its bullshit and its racist.

      Zoe Saldana, an Afro-Latina, plays African-American roles all the time. As does Jessica Alba, who isn’t even of black ancestry. No one says a peep about those roles, so that isn’t the issue.

      I think the issue really is the confluence of the skin darkening via makeup and Nina Simone’s activism on behalf of dark-skinned women in media and society. Many people believe the casting of Saldana in the role of Simone proves Simone’s point, and thus is inappropriate.

  10. If she hadn’t worn the makeup, she’d be pilloried for her insensitivity in taking the role I’d a dark-skinned woman while being light. She’d be accused of forcing her own standard of beauty on other black women,and that too would have been seen as a slap in the face to Simone.
    (Re:above paragraph-While I was writing this post I stopped and took a pause to look around and found articles on the casting choice of Saldana from 2012 and they said just that, that she was too light to play the role, so I won’t expound on that any further, as I found that it occurred, so it’s no longer just a supposition on my part). So they make her look more like the woman she’s playing, and that’s not acceptable either. ‘They should have cast Lauren Hill/ Leslie Jones/Viola Davis’…did these people want the role?

    Black face was used to stereotype blacks…actors in blackface often had white circles around their eyes and exaggerated painted-on white or red lips. They shuffled, cackled, and generally portrayed blacks as overgrown children. That is most emphatically what is not happening here.

    There was recently a huge flap in Japan about a doo-whop group who have always performed in black face:

    https://www.google.co.jp/search?q=rats+and+star&client=safari&hl=en-jp&prmd=inv&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiL25-oi7TLAhXnxqYKHd4kBuAQ_AUIBygB#imgrc=vOt6X666qmHDbM%3A

    They look like they use shoe polish ( the two unpainted people in the photo were guest performers), and they did a lot of exaggerated facial expressions. This was obvious minstrelsy. They’ve discontinued using blackface after it was taken up by the media.

    If you Search Google images for blackface, you’ll see posters for performances from that era in America. The difference between that and an actress made up for a role should be apparent.

  11. Hey, guys. Forget it. “What Happened, Miss Simone got sufficient Academy votes to win an Oscar nomination this year, and that was projected long before the race-bombs were thrown in either direction. It’s an excellent documentary with enough Nina-footage to satisfy the severest critic (she was her severest critic), and told chronogically for the most part, so that a true life story shows through: a roller-coaster career and homelife, concerts, controversies, unimaginable success, down-times, and all. What’s more, HER APPEARANCE CHANGES, just like in real life. (In the end, it all comes down to that willing suspension of disbelief.)

  12. There’s a comedy-mystery movie called “The Radioland Murders” which takes place at a 1950s-ish radio station, which has a gag (which I’m going to spoil) where the viewer hears a radio show going on about an aristocratic British explorer and his African guide, who speaks a made-up language that the audience doesn’t understand, but that the explorer understands perfectly (and responds to in English). From afar, we see a tall black man and a short white man on the stage reading the scripts. When we get a close up, we see that the white man is doing the voice of the African guide, and the black man is doing the voice of the British explorer, and they do it perfectly.

    I’m seriously wondering what the race-grievance crowd would think of that.

    I’m also reasonably sure (I hope) that they appreciate that a “Person of Broad Nose” has a lead role in the latest Star Wars movie. His performance has a lot of heart in it, and “heart” isn’t a word that usually comes to mind for me in the context of emotions. It just seems like people should be emphasizing the positives rather than expressing a feeling of entitlement regarding things that haven’t happened yet.

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