My review of WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? just published in last week’s issue of Downbeat magazine. Check it out here:
This is is exactly how my writing career began: blogging! Nearly seven years ago, in 2008, I sat in my awful apartment in Crown Heights, with my then horrible boyfriend and thought, “There has to be more to life than this!” And seven years later, I’m the better for making that first step towards independence and artistic freedom.
When Eunice Waymon adopted the stage name “Nina Simone,” she also took the necessary first steps towards her own freedom, in a backdrop of abject racism and discrimination. I was drawn to her beauty, first and foremost, because she looked so much like my own mom.
As a child, I never understood why my mom could never in her adult life say that she was a beautiful woman. Her self-hatred was so strong that she married my East Indian Trinidadian father, perhaps as a way of sparing us from the pain she endured, as a child of the South. I would sit and stare at her for hours, performing her nightly beauty regimen of Vaseline and Ponds cold cream. As she rubbed both vigorously into her face, I wondered if she, at times, wished that the blackness would come off along with her makeup.
When Nina, the feature biopic on Simone’s life, was first announced, like most diehard fans, I was elated. Then casting began and suddenly, Zoe Saldana was tapped for the lead role. Seriously, I just thought that it was a joke and so I laughed it off. But not long after the “joke,” pictures began to surface of Saldana, dressed in blackface, prosthetic features and African garb. All I could do is wail.
Saldana, a Dominican actress who resembles me and other mixed race daughters, was made to look like some type of freak sideshow caricature. That “person” that she had become was certainly not Nina Simone, nor was it any real representation of the beautiful dark women who I come from and have known and loved all of my life.
When I saw those awful pictures surface, my mom’s pain and self-hatred became palpable for me again and though I’ll never agree with it, for the first time, I could understand why uttering the words “I am beautiful” was just so difficult for her.
So for my mom, for Nina Simone and for black women everywhere who do not claim their God given beauty, I will say it loud for myself and for every sistah on Earth:
“I AM A REFLECTION OF WHAT SURROUNDS ME. THEREFORE, I AM BEAUTIFUL!”