A letter to Zoe


I know lately you have received many letters. In this day and age, you’ve probably received more emails. But I just wanted to write you a letter from a man’s perspective, one who has enjoyed you in many roles, exploring your comedic side in “Guess Who” as well as your alternative side as Uhura in “Star Trek.” However, I wanted to address the news of your recent role playing Nina Simone in an upcoming film.

Have you seen a Popeyes commercial lately? I know you do not eat there because of your nice and slim frame, but you cannot escape its commercials. A central character 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. Annie said, “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. No one speaks those phrases anymore, but Popeye’s said that Annie “expresses the heart and soul of the Popeye’s brand.” I thought we moved away from the Aunt Jemima characters.

Zaldana, you have African-Americans retreating from your portrayal of 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. A biopic is supposed to be as true as possible. You have watched Will Smith play the role of Muhammad Ali and Denzel Washington play the role of Malcolm X. You should have known this is not the role for you. Billie Holiday would suit you better. 

I cannot put all of the blame on you, though. Director Cynthia Mort had the final say. 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 am looking forward to viewing. It is ironic that the same cause Simone fought for her entire life is what you are portraying. What a world we live in.