On this your certain journey
Do you ever doubt
you have a beauty to match the strength
of those of us who carve
a strength to match your beauty?
~Abena P.A. Busia
Images of Zoe Saldana at the shoot of the Nina Simone biopic have emerged. Her casting is creating so much anger. Resentment. Sadness. Fury. The purpose of anger is to teach us about ourselves. To use it to progress. Audre Lorde says in her essay The Uses of Anger, that, Anger is loaded with information and energy.
For the sake of brevity, let’s say that there are two types of female archetypes in the mainstream public eye. They are the glamorous and the unglamorous. The distinction between the two has to do with desire. The glamorous celebrity archetype evokes desire in men and women alike. She is successful, talented and conventionally beautiful. Her presence arouses a type of desire in her observer that has to do with unattainable perfection. For heterosexual men, her myth enables a detachment from the responsibilities of love, because such a flawless woman cannot be truly loved for she is a fantasy. The unglamorous celebrity archetype is the woman that the majority of women can relate to. She has pain, anger, strength, joy, fear. The sentiment she evokes is not impeccable perfection but realness and thus, ironically, boldness. In real life, men find her alluring but often this is played down because glamour makes more money.
Zoe Saldana’s public image conjures the glamorous archetype. She is on the cover of fashion magazines and graces the url’s of fashion bloggers. Nina Simone’s public image did not. Many women desire Zoe Saldana’s perceived lifestyle and revere Nina Simone’s.
When a glamorous woman is cast to play an unglamorous one there is a counter-reaction. They take on different forms, but always they stir up audiences. With Nina: “No!” Women protest. “You may not insist that every woman’s primary purpose is to evoke desire. Some of our female icons must be allowed to be more than sexual objects!”
We are frustrated that Nina Simone be glamorised, glamour of course also being linked to whiteness; to straight hair, straight noses, light skin and narrow hips.
As symbolical representations of two juxtaposed media archetypes, Zoe Saldana’s success as Nina Simone will depend largely on how she teases out the idea of yearning, of glamour and of women’s relationship to these concepts. The most captivating characters on film embody a bit of both and I hope that Zoe Saldana will deliver that.
It’s time to move from the limitiations of a repetitive light vs dark skin debate to the important question, which is to ask – On what terms can a woman fulfil herself, when and how can she feel whole despite societal fragmented perceptions of womanhood?
The matter of colourism is part of that question but not until asked on such terms can we deconstruct it, by teasing out the evocations that fuel its stubborn presence. Then, we realise that glamour is always an illusion, and that illusions are malleable. And most importantly, we begin to learn in a sense, to desire ourselves, our own unique archetype.