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How Gabourey Sidibe's New Movie Relates To This Nina Simone Song
Eight years after making her acting debut in the film Precious, Gabourey Sidibe's career has reached a new landmark. On Tuesday, her directorial debut, The Tale of Four, is available to stream. The powerful film brings us into the living rooms and lives of four Black women: Saffronia (Megan Kimberly Smith), Sarah (Ledisi Young), Peaches (Aisha Hinds), and Sweet Thing (Dana Gourrier).
The movie becomes even more powerful when it's connected back to its source material: the song "Four Women" by Nina Simone. Simone's song is narrated by four women, each embodying an archetype of Black women from slavery to 1966, the year the song came out. Unsurprisingly, the women in the song are also named Saffronia, Sarah, Peaches, and Sweet Thing.
Sidibe told Refinery29 that the first time she heard "Four Women," she saw the movie version playing out before her. Now, we get to see her vision. Here's how the movie characters correlate to Simone's.
"Four Women" is sung from the perspective of four women, each from a different era between slavery and the year 1966. Each woman begins her segment by describing her appearance: "My skin is brown," or "My hair is tan." She goes on to describe how others treat her, and what others "call" her.
The song begins with Aunt Sarah, a slave. We see how Saffronia, Sweet Thing, and Peaches' experiences all stem from this somber starting-off point.
Sarah is the first to sing in "Four Women." In her narrative, she describes how her body has adapted to the unspeakable and relentless difficulty of slavery. Simone sings, "My skin is black / My arms are long / My hair is woolly / My back is strong / Strong enough to take the pain / Inflicted again and again." The name "Aunt Sarah" is reminiscent of other archetypal mammy figures, like Aunt Chloe in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
In The Tale of Four, Sarah is a woman struggling with mental health issues following years of domestic abuse. After Sarah's (Ledisi Young) sister goes to jail, she's left responsible for her teenaged niece and nephew, and finds creating a stable environment for the kids a challenge.
Saffronia is characterized by her mixed race identity. Even her name, "Saffronia," relates to te golden hue of the spice saffron. Explaining how her complexion came about, Saffronia sings, "My skin is yellow / My hair is long / Between two worlds / I do belong / But my father was rich and white / He forced my mother late one night." Saffronia carries with her the trauma of her mother's rape.
Sidibe drew on the same complexity when creating the teenaged Saffronia (Meagan Kimberly Smith) in The Tale of Four. Saffronia has a lighter complexion than her mother, and wants to know her father's identity. She unearths a traumatic secret in the process.
In Simone's song, Sweet Thing is characterized by her sexuality. "My skin is tan / My hair is fine / My hips invite you / My mouth like wine / Whose little girl am I? / Anyone who has money to buy," she sings in "Four Women." Sweet Thing is intended to embody the "tragic mulatto" trope, which often appeared in fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Sweet Thing (Dana Gourrier) in The Tale of Four is in a relationship with a man, who also happens to be happily married. While she recognizes he can't give her what she needs, she struggles to cut him off.
Peaches narrates from the year 1966. She has internalized the stories of the three women who have come before her, and she's angry. Instead of describing her appearance as the others do, Peaches focuses on her attitude. "My skin is brown / My manner is tough / I'll kill the first mother I see! / My life has been rough / I'm awfully bitter these days / Because my parents were slaves," she sings. She represents the forces and emotions behind the civil rights movement. At the song's end, Simone screams, "My name is Peaches!"
In TheTale of Four, Peaches sits in front of a web-cam and delivers an emotional, forceful speech about the problems of the justice system. We find out her son was killed by the police. The film ends the same way the song does: Peaches saying, "My name is Peaches!" with force.
Watch Gabourey Sidibe's interpretation in The Tale of Four, here.
Four Women Nina Simone Song Gabourey Sidibe Movie Link