Today, it was announced that Zoe Saldana would be replacing Mary J. Blige in an upcoming Nina Simone biopic.
There was a collective groan seen around the internet. One Clutch Magazine author blasted the casting saying:
While many wondered why Saldana (or Mary J. if we’re honest) was tapped for the role considering she looks nothing like the legendary jazz singer, the fervor caused by her casting reminded me, once again, of the importance of telling our own stories.
In the past few years Hollywood has consistently gotten it wrong when it comes to telling black women’s narratives. From the questionable choice of casting Thandie Newton as an Igbo woman in the film adaptation of the novel Half of a Yellow Sun and Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela, to Jacqueline Fleming, a biracial woman, playing Harriet Tubman, when other people are in charge of portraying us, it seems like any brown face will do.
Another writer suggested five other women to replace Blige, including Viola Davis and India.Arie. I have mixed feelings about this casting. On one hand, I find Saldana’s casting a bit…odd. After all, her filmography isn’t that impressive and her features are stark contrast to those of Simone. On another hand, there have been many biographical films that have had surprising castings that ended up being pleasantly surprising.
Here are five of them:
The Temptations Miniseries (1998)
Left Clockwise: Leon (portraying David Ruffin), D.B. Woodside (portraying Melvin Franklin), Charles Malik Whitfield (portraying Otis Williams), Terron Brooks (portraying Eddie Kendricks) and Christian Payton.
Right Clockwise: Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams and David Ruffin
I have been hearing this The Temptations’ music for my whole life, however, this movie was the first time I was able to put faces to this group. Or so I thought. I didn’t see what The Temptations really looked like until a few years ago and judging by the pictures above, it’s safe to say the only actor that remotely resembles their character is Leon and that’s only because of the styling and glasses. Nonetheless, these men did a great job in these roles. Each character was well developed and despite not being a big budget movie, the characters were pretty nuanced and well developed even though some of the actors went on to do some not so well developed projects ( *cough* D.B. is Malcolm from Single Ladies *cough*).
The Josephine Baker Story (1991)
Lynn Whitfield (left) and Josephine Baker
Another straight-to-television movie and definitely one of my favorites. Lynn Whitfield is better known for movies like Eve’s Bayou and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate but in my opinion, The Josephine Baker Story was one of her best portrayals. Josephine Baker was known for her higher energy performances and boisterous personality and Whitfield captured her persona perfectly despite not resembling Baker at all. Whitfield was also nude in a few of the scenes, something that can be risky, especially for an actress of color still Whitfield shined.
Walk the Line (2005)
Reese Witherspoon (left) and June Carter Cash
Walk The Line was centered on the love story of Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix portrayed Johnny and Reese Witherspoon was June. Joaquin and Johnny bear a strong resemblance. June and Reese look nothing alike. Still, Witherspoon did a stellar job portraying Carter and even learned how to play the instruments Carter used to play. She also listened to audio of Carter speaking and singing so she could match her voice in addition to training with a vocal teacher. All that effort paid off because Witherspoon ended up winning an Oscar for her role.
Cadillac Records (2008)
*ducks rocks and tomatoes being thrown*
Beyonce doesn’t have very strong acting chops so I wasn’t expecting much when I first saw this movie but she shocked and impressed me. Etta James had a hard life and was able to bring that out through her music. Beyonce is best known for pop diddies and shimmying around a stage in bejeweled panties but Beyonce was able to deliver. She was even able to portray James on a dope binge. She also had strong chemistry with Adrien Brody who portrayed Leonard Chess, James’ producer and love interest. She did alright and it shows she is actually trying to take this whole acting thing seriously.
Not to mention, she sang her ass off.
Malcolm X (1992)
Malcolm X had red hair. Denzel has dark brown hair. X was light skinned. Washington is chocolate. Not to mention, the only facial feature they have in common in the above pictures is the glasses on each of their faces. Still, Malcolm X is one of Washington’s most memorable roles. Washington did a great job portraying the charismatic activist. He smoothly moved between each stage of X’s life and was about as riveting as X himself. Training Day would earn Washington an Oscar but Malcolm X is definitely one of his Oscar-worthy performances. Not to mention, it was a Spike Lee Joint.
What do you think of this list? Who would you add? Would you remove anyone? Leave a comment!