Zoe Saldana is playing Nina Simone in an upcoming unauthorized biopic. Many have been up in arms about it, going as far as to create a petition to cast another (darker-skinned) actor.
Zoe responded to it with a retweet from a fan claiming "reverse racism". While the terminology is wrong (where this discussion often gets derailed), the sentiment is accurate.
I think it's important to begin with the correct term for the controversy going on here.
It's called colorism.
It's colorism that Zoe Saldana, a black woman who is significantly lighter-skinned than the singer, was cast in the role. It's also colorism that many are claiming that Zoe Saldana is ill-suited to the role, because she's too light.
...It boggles my mind that the vocally-opposed miss that self-defeating bit of irony.
For the uninitiated, colorism is discrimination based on how dark or how light one is. This term is often used when there is deferential treatment given within an ethnic group because of the perceived differences in skin color (note: hair texture and facial features are also tangents of this issue).
Though racism is the reason why colorism exists, it is people of color who continue to allow it to thrive. It is people of color who have the power to eliminate it. An outsider's perspective is always going to be flawed by nature, so how we choose to define ourselves matters so much more.
I simply cannot determine whether she is ill-suited without having seen the final product. Though the reverse is rare in comparison, I have seen darker-skinned actors portray lighter-skinned black people (see: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner, Diana Ross as Billy Holiday, and Denzel Washington as Malcolm X) without much hullabaloo.
That this has touched such a nerve, I think, speaks to the depth of the hurt carried by many because of the rejection, bullying, and other abuses suffered because their blackness was the wrong kind. It's an untreated psychological disease within our ethnic group, that has caused or contributed to many a bitter black woman.
It's an odd burden, that we place upon ourselves, to root our opinions in extremes in order to authentically assert our "blackness".
What a strange set of shackles we chose to wear.
On this issue, I stand in the middle, though, I do hope the criticism inspires Ms. Saldana to do her best, even better.
P.S. I have to admit, Viola Davis being cast would have gotten me a lot more excited about this biopic.