The first photos of actress Zoe Saldana as the celebrated jazz and soul singer Nina Simone has been leaked on the Internet, answering some questions and raising others.
From the image of Saldana, 34, wearing an Afro wig and what appears to be a prosthetic nose and skin-darkening makeup, it's apparent that the film's director, Cynthia Mort, is aiming for Saldana to look as much as possible like Simone.
Criticism of the casting for the unauthorized film is directed less at Saldana than at a Hollywood that has historically cast light-skinned black actresses in leading roles. Simone not only celebrated her Afrocentric features, but she wrote songs about race and racism and was a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement.
"The reason this is coming up now is there's still such a paucity of opportunity for African-American women to work in the cinema that we are quick to scrutinize each individual role," Mia Mask, the film department chair at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said. "Here, when we have actresses who look the part and they are still overlooked, it only strengthens the argument that there's a pattern here."
Mask, the author of "Divas on Screen: Black Women in American Film," also points out that shifting demographics have Latina actresses on the rise. "Increasingly, we're seeing Latina actresses and non-black women of color cast opposite black men," she said, adding that Saldana has become an A-list star, following her roles in "Avatar" and "Colombiana," and in a star-driven system, she's a safe bet for Hollywood.