Zoe talks beauty
“There’s no one way to be black. I’m black the way I know how to be. Don’t ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.”
What products do you like? “I’m becoming adamant about products that don’t contain certain chemicals. The desire to be organic is ever-present in my life, so I’m using Dr Hauschka, but I’m also making my own.” Do you have an opinion about plastic surgery? “If I’m still in the public eye for years to come, and I’m going to serve as a role model, I hope to preserve some kind of natural state. But I’m allowed to be insecure. And if I have to go to a doctor to sort out those insecurities, I will.” How did you get back into shape after having babies? “After I had the boys, I was so inspired by the mommies [on social media] using their babies as weights, doing all their exercises in between naps and feeding times. So I exercised in my garden and went on Youtube. Search #workoutmoms, #bouncingback – whatever – and you’ll be flooded with women who will inspire you.”
something you can use.’” When Cindy Crawford heard Zoe and her husband were ready to sleep-train the boys, “she emailed to say, ‘There’s this doctor and I swear by his technique,’” Zoe says.
“That love and support from the network of women around me, it made me…” Tears well up. “I get emotional because if we continue to do that, we will be unstoppable. As opposed to nitpicking at one another for arbitrary things like weight. It’s so minutiae when there are bigger issues we have to be talking about, like equal pay and rights.”
Even after her reputation as a bankable action heroine had been established, Zoe found herself struggling with these issues – most memorably when a producer told her, “I hired you to look good in your underwear holding a gun.” The line is as much of a gut punch now as it was when it was delivered years ago, but luckily, Zoe has “a strong sense of self. I have no problem admitting my errors; just have respect for me,” she says. “It’s kind of like that Nina Simone song – you’ve got to learn to leave the table when love isn’t being served.”
Which brings us to a topic that’s dogged Zoe for almost five years: her role as the iconic black singer in the biopic Nina. From her initial casting in 2012 to the no-fanfare release of the film this year, Zoe has been pilloried for having the audacity to play the dark-skinned singer. And after Zoe tweeted a quote from Nina Simone, the singer’s estate tweeted, “…please take Nina’s name out of your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
Zoe faces these criticisms head-on. “There’s no one way to be black,” she says. “I’m black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. Don’t you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain.” And as for the idea that Zoe could be considered too pretty to play Nina, she retorts, “I never saw her as unattractive. Nina looks like half my family! But if you think the [prosthetic] nose I wore was unattractive, you need to ask yourself, what do you consider beautiful? Do you consider a thinner nose beautiful, so the wider it is, the more insulted you are?”
What seemed to drive criticism about Zoe daring to take the role (one she turned down for a year) wasn’t just that she wore skin-darkening makeup, but the view that the job went to someone seen as apolitical. But she has no regrets. “The script would probably still be lying around, and nobody would have done it. Female stories aren’t relevant enough, especially a black female story,” she says. “Whatever consequences this may bring about, my casting is nothing compared to the fact that this story must be told.”
The problem isn’t just that one role for an African-american actress may or may not have been miscast; it’s that Hollywood needs more non-white female everythings. If the issue of underrepresentation is ever truly addressed, more people would no doubt create great roles for the entire list of actresses who ‘should’ have got the role in Nina.
Still, Zoe is ready to move on. She’s excited to be part of Ben Affleck’s period movie Live by Night, but not afraid of getting typecast as a butt-kicking alien. “If it were up to me, I’d only do movies in space,” Zoe says. “I have an affinity for the limitless possibilities that the universe provides.”