Dear Zoe Saldana,
I know lately you have received many letters. It might have been more emails in this day and age. But I just wanted to write you a letter from a man’s perspective, one that has enjoyed you in many roles. One who has enjoyed your comedic side in “Guess Who,” as well as your more alternative roles such as Uhura in “Star Trek.” However, I wanted to address the news of your recent role in playing Nina Simone in an upcoming film.
Have you seen a Popeye’s commercial lately? I know you do not eat there because of your nice and slim frame, but you cannot escape their commercials. The main character’s name on those commercials is Annie the Chicken Queen. I know African-American women love to be recognized as queens, but this is not the queen African-Americans want. They have been trying to wash away the stereotypes of African-American women for years, but Annie just opens up the floodgates once again.
The attitude and wording of the commercial is unrealistic. It features phrases such as, “I work my fanny off making this chicken perfect and they practically give it away.” But Annie is not making that chicken. Underpaid college students and Popeye’s employees are making that chicken. No one speaks of those phrases anymore either, but Popeye’s says that Annie “expresses the heart and soul of the Popeye’s brand.” I thought we had moved away from the Aunt Jemima characters.
But Ms. Zaldana, you have the African-American race retreating from your portrayal of Nina Simone. I know how the movie industry works and that there are far too few movie roles for African-Americans, but this is one you could have skipped. These biopics are supposed to be as true as possible. You have watched Will Smith play Ali and Denzel Washington play Malcolm X. You should have known this is not the role for you. Billie Holliday would have been more your suit.
I cannot put all of the blame on you though. Director Cynthia Mort had the final say so. But I just want you to know, as a black man, I am not happy. You are stunning to look at, but this will not be the stunning performance I will be looking forward to see. It is ironic that the same cause Nina Simone fought for her entire life is what you are portraying. What a world we live in.