we’ve been talking a lot about Nina Simone lately without actually talking about her

Nina Simone

Here’s the thing we all can agree on: Nina Simone’s legacy should not boil down to this biopic.

she is much more than her music. she is much more than a muse. and she is much, much more than Zoe Saldana in dark make-up and a prosthetic nose.

the problem is that we’ve been talking a lot about Nina Simone lately without actually talking about her.

she is very much alive in the current movement, especially with so many black entertainers pushing the status quo with performances and conversations directly calling out the joy, pain, power and oppression that comes with being black in America. it’s J. Cole singing “Be Free” on David Letterman. it is Kendrick Lamar rapping in the front of a chain gang on the Grammys.

it is, undeniably, “Formation.”

the difference is that when Nina spoke out about the injustices of white supremacy, she was outcast with a lot less fanfare. the worst thing that happened to Beyonce was a Canadian presidential candidate calling for her deportation like an idiot. unfortunately, that doesn’t stop me from seeing Nina’s face drowning with that NOPD cop car.

entertainment narratives are how we collectively learn and embrace artists. their songs and the movies that come out about them are how they continue to live after they’ve passed. the Netflix documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” is a heartwrenching and honest portrait but without a DVD release, I fear it’ll just be another flick buried at the bottom of our Netflix queue not to be watched or shared again. time will tell if it becomes part of her larger canon, but let’s see a show of hands: who’s read her autobiography, “I Put A Spell On You”?

no, the only picture of Nina we’ll have that we won’t have to dig for is poor Zoe, who thought the privilege to become Nina onscreen should be her own, and not someone who actually looked like and has experienced the same things as a dark-skinned black woman like her. poor Zoe, who’s biggest dramatic role was “Avatar,” an allegory of historical colonialism where she still couldn’t be herself. Instead, she was a seven-foot-tall blue alien who still managed to fall in love with a white man.

I’m not seeing “Nina” in theatres. not because I think it won’t be any good, because I actually think it will be. but I didn’t go out to see “Straight Outta Compton” because I didn’t want to financially support someone who beats women. I don’t want Zoe to be how Nina lives in my subconscious unlike how Denzel is forever linked with Malcolm X.

if Nina sucks, I’ve already stocked enough food to survive the flood of thinkpieces ripping it to shreds.

(Nina Simone photo credit: By Kroon, Ron / Anefo – [1] Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989, Nummer toegang 2.24.01.03 Bestanddeelnummer 918-5601, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29243161)

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Princess McDowell is a poet, writer and journalist from Dallas, Texas. She's released a CD of poetry entitled Not A Storybook <3 and a chapbook named faith move muscle. She's currently writing her first fiction novel. She can be reached at princess.mcdowell@gmail.com

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