Zoe Saldana in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ TV Remake AND As Nina Simone? What in the Devil’s Goin’ On???
This will be a brief post, but not as short as a Tweet. Perhaps fewer than two thousand words. After all, I go off on tangents and on people — well, those who deserve it. It’s just that I’ve got a gripe, not a grape, to peel. I’ve got no issue with the non-traditional casting of Zoe Saldana (Center Stage, Avatar, Guess Who? Colombiana, Constellation — well, two out of five ain’t bad … and guess which two?) in the starring role in Rosemary’s Baby, but I’m horrified that she would have the audacity to transform into Nina Simone when so many Black actresses and singers could use the work and work their talents — from Viola Davis, Lorraine Toussaint and Tichina Arnold to India-Arie, Angie Stone and Jennifer Hudson. Not even Pixar’s special effects combined with the magic of both David Blaine and David Copperfield could create the illusion that Zoe Saldana is trying to sell.
I didn’t have an issue with Saldana portraying the freaked-out, incubus-ravaged wife, Rosemary, in the recent, second TV remake of Roman Polanski’s 1967 cult classic because I needed guaranteed comedic relief. One doesn’t need to be an NYU Film School student and trust fund baby to know that Mia Farrow’s authentically terrified reactions to pure evil in the role of a fashion-forward human host of Satan’s baby were outmatched only by her iconic pixie hairstyle — a Vidal Sassoon masterpiece — and her screams and the surreal scenes are cemented in many of our minds.
Saldana’s performance in the NBC-TV horror melodrama was so tepid that I was more interested in the Paris backdrop than her character’s malevolent “evening sickness.” In Part 2 of the TV remake, Rosemary’s novelist-husband (never mind holding a candle to John Cassavetes’ Guy; Patrick J. Adams couldn’t even light the match) shares with her that he doesn’t understand why she has morning sickness at night, and Rosemary replies with a smile: “Well, it’s morning in Los Angeles.” Ha-ha-snoooozzzzze. Too bad the blurry special effects couldn’t save “Rosemary’s Baby”; in fact, they and not Saldana were the most annoying aspect of viewing the drama. All the obscure (and obtuse) editing in “Rosemary’s Babble,” er, “Rosemary’s Baby” — for example, the mom-to-be’s chomping on what amounts to steak tartare — makes no sense when one (or, at least, when a viewer who isn’t homicide-inclined or -fixated) considers that on TV’s “Hannibal,” the title character prepares hors d’oeuvres of human organs before our eyes. Of course, those appetizers aren’t actually human meat, but they’re supposed to be, whereas Saldana’s Rosemary actually looks as if she’s shoving cherry pie in her … well, piehole.
Some film classics simply don’t need to be remade. Then again, with all the horror flicks that get redone into redon’ts, perhaps there’s a subconscious message in that, which is: As we continue to rape planet Earth, we try to analyze the horrors within us. Within Man. Well, the plot of Casablanca involved the atrocities of war, especially the terrorism and brutality of Nazism, but I don’t see the TV arm of Hollywood forcing that film to undergo a facelift, n’est-ce pas?
Speaking of facelifts …
Earlier tonight, as I bumbled about the Internet instead of slipping beneath the covers, I stumbled into a photo of Zoe Saldana in blackface for her portrayal of the legendary Nina Simone. Keep in mind that I had just suffered through Part 2 of the aforementioned TV remake of “Rosemary’s Baby” starring Saldana. The Nina Simone biopic is allegedly a personal project of hers. Yeah, and that qualifies her to portray THE Nina Simone? Really? While an actor doesn’t need to resemble the subject of a biopic, and while he or she can lip sync to lyrics (think of the sheer magic, the spine-tingling soul-channeling, that we’ve witnessed from “The Buddy Holly Story,” “Sweet Dreams” and “The Josephine Baker Story” to “Selena,” “Ray” and “Cadillac Records”), it does help a great deal when the filmmaker and his or her team go to lengths to select an actor who comes close to resembling the biopic’s subject.
As soon as I learned of the Nina Simone biopic, I got a case of “evening sickness,” and not from memories of Saldana’s Rosemary devouring raw beef. Here’s my beef: Casting Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone is the result of some kind of cognitive disorder that’s on the rampage again in Hollywood. What if, instead of casting Jessica Lange as the late great Patsy Cline, Hollywood had decided to select Sheryl Lee Ralph? We all would’ve let out an Ed Norton (not the current actor but the fictional Brooklyn character): Whaaa-aaa-aaa-aaah! The only beef I have with Zoe Saldana wearing a ton more makeup on her face than Natalie Wood lugged around as Maria in West Side Story is this: The immensely talented Viola Davis, whose beauty is highly underrated, would’ve been right on — as in, with an Angela Davis fist! Viola immediately came to this writer’s mind and especially because she’s got that roll to her female baritone. Whether she can or can’t sing a lick (can Zoe sound like Nina?) doesn’t matter; lip synching in biopics is the norm. And Viola wouldn’t need more than a dab of blush and a stroke of ‘stick. Hell, anybody can don a turban, but that won’t make her Nina Simone. Neither will pouting when one’s naturally superthick lips put the sensual sugah in some blues.
However, I’m just dreaming. We all know that Hollywood will always be Hollywood, focusing on bankable stars who underneath the Sub-Saharan Matte #5 have conventionally beautiful looks. Hollywood didn’t have a problem with Zoe’s mocha version of Rosemary getting her swirly on and, later, having the devil’s spawn in Paris, but it thinks nothing of triple-dipping her and her wispy body in chocolate to make Nina Simone’s Africanness palatable to non-Black people and to the Black people who self-hate thickness in lips and hips. And I doubt that Donald’s anything but sterling remarks lately will change the self-hatred among Us.
Or, allow me to break it down thusly: Too many of us — and. here, I’m referring to people across ethnic and cultural lines — can understand Viola Davis portraying a maid in The Help, and some secretly were titillated by her mamminess in that film adaptation. Others, including Oprah Winfrey, rationalized the roles of the film’s two principal (and principled) maids in a psychological act of defiance as if they were the only descendants of the African Diaspora who counted housekeepers among their ancestors. So, while I’m thrilled that younger generations are intrigued by Nina Simone’s music and her life, we won’t get to watch and listen to Viola blowing our minds in the biographical role. Heck, white French actress Julie Delpy, as the bourgeoise Céline opposite Ethan Hawke’s Jesse, lip synched through a Nina Simone jazz standard in Before Sunset – the second installment of Richard Linklater’s trilogy — and, honey, let me tell you that I didn’t see a spot of shoe polish on her face and hands! No, chillens, this sho ain’t a new life or a new world, so Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone sho don’t feeeeeeel gooooooooooooooood!!!”
“Zoe Saldana in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Remake AND As Nina Simone? What the Devil Is Going On???” © 2014 Chantale Reve All Rights Reserved