So… remember all Black Hell that broke loose over a “lightskinned” Afro-Latina actress, Zoe Saldana, being tapped to play the legendary Nina Simone? The crux of the ‘blacklash’ was “she looks nothing like Nina!”
Translation: Zoe’s “lightskin and ‘good’ hair” were a deal-breaker for Black folks, and ‘we’ were not having it. (Leaked production pics of Zoe in what was decried as ‘blackface’ makeup to look like Nina… didn’t help her case.)
The controversy was so swift and visceral, Zoe Saldana was compelled to defend not only her choice to accept the role of Nina Simone, but also to defend her ethnic ‘authenticity’ as a Black-Latina woman. Which I found sad and unfortunate the attacks got so personal that a Black actress was pressured to prove she’s aesthetically and genetically “Black enough.”
Now… fast-forward past many other controversial castings that caused cries of colorism when a ‘lightskinned’ actor played a ‘darkskinned’ person–as well as little to no controversy when the opposite casting occurred–to the recent announcement that Chadwick Boseman has been cast to play Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Suffice to say, two Black people could not be more dissimilar in appearance than Chadwick Boseman and Thurgood Marshall. Whereas, Thurgood Marshall could possibly “pass” [for White] in many circles back in his day, Chadwick Boseman was the spitting image of James Brown as the lead in his biopic.
Still, there as been no major ‘blacklash’ over Chadwick snagging the Thurgood Marshall role. There have been some reader grumblings in comment sections about the “looks” not matching, but that smattering of criticism from Blacks hasn’t been called an “erasure of blackness,” as is the case when a lighter complexioned Black actor portrays a darker complexioned person. Why?
When Denzel Washington played Malcolm X, there was no widespread criticism calling for Spike Lee to cast Laurence Fishburne instead. Even though they were both fine actors in their own right, Laurence Fishburne bore a closer resemblance to the 6’4”, fair-complexioned, green-eyed, red-haired, Malcolm X. Denzel’s Oscar nominated performance silenced any critics who may have considered such an argument and the Oscar nominated film itself is considered an “absolutely necessary” classic.
Why the apparent double-standard when it comes to the complexions of Black actors portraying Blacks persons or characters of a different complexion?
I mean… we even went off about a lightskinned actress portraying Harriet Tubman as a slayer of the undead in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
I have my personal points of view based on studying and experiencing colorism. (It’s essentially racism’s bastard offspring, indoctrinated into the colonized minds of oppressed people living in a white supremacist power structure.)
But I’d like to initiate the conversation, rather than give a dissertation on the issue. Your thoughts are welcome.
Do you believe Black people feel different types of ways about light playing dark than dark playing light between actors and roles? If so, what are your thoughts on that double-standard? (This isn’t a rhetorical question… your insights are genuinely welcome.) #dontBSyourself