Whitewashing History with Blackface: The Nina Simone Fauxography and Post-Mortem Rights of Publicity

Nina Simone (née Eunice Waymon) was an American icon – a singer/songwriter and civil rights activist whose work was proudly, and inextricably, intertwined with her identity as a black woman with dark skin and classically African features. Raised during a time when she was told her skin was “too black” and her nose was “too wide,” Simone was defiantly proud of her looks and worked to change the popular perception of beauty in America. Her music was inspired by both heritage and racial inequality, and she performed and spoke at many civil rights meetings, advocating for violent-revolution in the style of Malcom X. Simone left the United States in 1970 as a protest to the injustices she had experienced throughout her life, succumbing to breast-cancer on April 21, 2003, at the age of 70 in France.

Simone’s extraordinary life is the subject of at least two recent movies. What Happened, Miss Simone?, the documentary made in cooperation with Simone’s estate and daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, was produced as a counterpoint to Nina, an unauthorized biopic. Nina focuses on Simone’s romantic relationship with her manager, Clifton Henderson. A classic story, except for the fact that Henderson was a gay man who never had a romantic relationship with Simone. The inaccurate depiction of her mother’s life is what most bothers Kelly, but what has others bothered is the casting of Zoe Saldana as Nina.

Zoe Saldana is lighter skinned than Simone was, and her role in the movie required makeup to darken her skin and the use of a prosthetic nose to change her appearance to more closely match Simone’s. Many have asked why a darker skinned actress whose features naturally recall Simone’s wasn’t cast. And some are calling the extensive use of makeup on Saldana “blackface.” The casting has sparked outrage over Hollywood’s seeming inability to cast darker skinned actors and “colorism,” the idea that skin tone, in addition to race, determines your opportunities.

So the question is, how can an entire movie, a biopic no less, be made without the permission of a person’s family and estate? Continue reading


#OscarsSoLitigious: Academy Sues Over Decadent $200k “Oscars” Swag Bags

Looks like the 88th Academy Awards couldn’t stay out of the spotlight if it wanted to, first dealing with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and now starting a lawsuit over the swag bags being given out at the awards. Forbes values this year’s swag bag at $232,000 and it includes such classics as: a $250 marijuana vaporizer; $1,900 “vampire breast lift” skin treatments; $250 vibrator; $275 Swiss-made toilet paper; and a 10-day first class trip to Israel, just to name a few. The company providing the gift bags is Distinctive Assets (DA), which specializes in “offering celebrity placement, product introduction and branding opportunities within the entertainment industry.”

You already know what it looks like anyway

NOT PICTURED: $250 Vibrator

Last year DA allegedly promised the Academy that it would change its ways and stop marketing its goodie bags in a manner that implies the Academy endorses DA or its products – so you can kind of see why the Academy would put its foot down when DA used slogans like “Everyone Wins At The Oscars®! Nominee Gift Bags,” and “Everyone Wins Nominee Gift Bags in Honor of the Oscars®,” this year. Continue reading

Dream Team or Bad Dream? Joint Works with J-Law and Amy Schumer

In a move delighting twenty-something women everywhere, Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, The Hunger Games) announced that she and comedian Amy Schumer are collaborating on a screenplay.   Schumer, who wrote and starred in the 2015 summer hit Trainwreck, and known for her sketch-comedy show, Inside Amy Schumer, became friends with Lawrence after she saw Trainwreck and the two began e-mailing. Since then, they’ve hit up the Hamptons, Billy Joel concerts in Chicago, and of course, are writing a movie where they’ll play sisters. Continue reading

“The End of the Tour:” Showdown Between Copyright and Right of Publicity

Jason Segel’s breakout role as a “serious” actor in The End of the Tour has proven to be a success. Segel plays acclaimed American novelist David Foster Wallace in the last days of a publicity tour, after his novel Infinite Jest hit the shelves to critical acclaim in 1996. The movie is based solely on the book Although of Course you End Up Becoming Yourself, which, in turn, is based on an unpublished Rolling Stone interview, and all three focus on several days leading up to Wallace’s last stop on his publicity tour in Minneapolis. However, nearly every review or article about the movie includes the fact that Wallace, if he was alive, would never have wanted this movie to be made, and that his widow and co-trustee are adamantly against the film. Continue reading

The Story Behind the Big Eyes Copyright Dispute

The upcoming release of the film “Big Eyes” brings back a famous copyright dispute case from the 1980s between Walter and Margaret Keane over a set of big-eyed child paintings that generated a pop cultural phenomenon two decades before.

A fad of the 1960s, Walter Keane’s claimed paintings of big-eyed children are forever cemented in American pop culture. The only problem is that Walter Keane did not paint, his wife did. Continue reading