In this podcast, we talked about the Zoe Saldana controversy. This begins our long journey where for whatever reason we bring up Zoe Saldana in every conversation.
For those of you who don’t know what we’re talking about, Zoe Saldana got in big trouble for wearing prosthetic make-up that reminded a lot of people of blackface when she played Nina Simone in a recent very important biopic. On the one hand, a lot of people outside the controversy felt like criticizing Zoe for her color, for playing a darker skinned black woman seemed…racist? On the other hand, because she took a spot that could’ve gone to a darker skinned, heavier set Black woman, many people felt like she usurped Simone’s identity with what was essentially “light-washing.”
We talk about an important central factor in the debate that many people don’t address: Zoe Saldana isn’t considered African-American by much of the black community, because as a woman of half Puerto Rican, half Dominican descent, she’s considered herself Afro-Latina.
In other words, she’s mixed.
Is this an example of anti-mixed discrimination? Or does Zoe’s different ethnicity mean that when playing Nina’s role, she can’t fill it with the authenticity it deserves because she doesn’t have the same experience of racism that someone like Nina did? We talk about living in Puerto Rico, and how the racism our Puerto Rican friends experience is predominantly “go back to Mexico” type ethnicism, not targeted police violence or color-based aggression like much of the African American community experiences. We talk about the huge difference in experiences between Puerto Rican/Dominican culture and Black culture in the US.
On the other hand, we also talk about how Zoe, as a person, considered herself part of the Black community even though she identified as Afro-Latino instead of African-American, and how othering the experience of backlash was (Sam makes up a word here you all have to hear). Yet, Samantha argues that Zoe Saldana is not considered black by the Black Community. This tweet by Essence is a perfect example:
— ESSENCE (@Essence) January 1, 2017
This tweet makes no sense unless you completely discount the contribution that Saldana has made in the last three films of the Star Trek franchise.
Here’s a well-circulated quote by Zoe that sums up how she feels about her culture and ethnicity:
When I go to the D.R., the press in Santo Domingo always asks, “¿Qué te consideras, dominicana o americana?” (What do you consider yourself, Dominican or American?) I don’t understand it, and it’s the same people asking the same question. So I say, time and time again, “Yo soy una mujer negra.” (“I am a black woman.”) [They go] “Oh, no, tú eres trigueñita.” (“Oh no, you are ‘dark skinned'”) I’m like, “No! Let’s get it straight, yo soy una mujer negra.” (“I am a black woman.”)
So what should she have done? What should we, the viewers, have done?
We don’t give you answers, but we raise some important questions that we’d like to hear your answers on, so do comment below.
(Also, Jen uses the word “unvalidate,” which isn’t a word. Feel free to make fun of her for that)