Dominican Actress Sonalii Castillo Talks Latinx Identity and Not Labeling Herself Afro-Latina

Born in the Dominican Republic, raised in France, speaks three languages, and is an award-winning director, writer & filmmaker, Sonalii Castillo is very well the epitome of a modern day superwoman

Photo: Instagram/sonaliicastillo

Photo: Instagram/sonaliicastillo

Born in the Dominican Republic, raised in France, speaks three languages, and is an award-winning director, writer & filmmaker, Sonalii Castillo is very well the epitome of a modern day superwoman. She can do it all and with the kind of style and grit, we all can admire. This multitalented actress who plays the nomadic warrior bounty huntress, Essa Khan, on the CW’s newest series The Outpost which debuted this summer, is definitely someone to keep your eyes on. 

Castillo not only commands the screen with her enticing beauty but she is also a force to be reckoned with behind the scenes having won an award for “Best Direction of a Film” for her first film Dahlias: Wild Card, which was screened at the Knickerbocker Film Festival. Previously she was on some top-rated network television shows such as CBS NCIS: LA, NBC’s Heroes, as well as the CBS dramas Without A Trace and CSI: Miami. But what is more impressive is her humble, kindhearted, charisma that invites you along on her impressive journey of accolades and challenges she shared. When describing how she felt to find out she had landed the role of Essa Khan, Castillo described the emotions that soared through her with tears of joy you could still here in her voice.

“I’m just a warrior and I get to tell her story. I love being on a show where I get to show up and tell a story. I think that I have been waiting my whole life to play this role,” she tells HipLatina.

This Caribbean Latina from the Dominican Republican has definitely had a whirlwind journey to where she is now. “I was born in Santo Domingo and still remember being a child there,” Castillo says as she describes her upbringing. Moving to France with her family when she was still a young child was a bit emotional for her.

“It was very different and interesting seeing this other culture. I lived there for six and a half years, learned how to speak French, and I just completely became French. Then we came to America and that was a huge change, a huge change for me. I never knew what racism was until I came to America,” Castillo says. “In France, we were just from the Caribbean, it wasn’t you’re black, you’re white, you’re Latino. So when I moved to New York it was very hard because here … I am Dominican, I am Latina as Latina’s get and the black kids wanted nothing to do with me, the Latino kids didn’t know what to do with me and all I spoke was French,” Castillo says with a laugh.

Fast forward and Castillo shared how she learned to adapt to her new surroundings and found solace through the arts. “I had to re-learn how to speak Spanish and English at the same time. I’ve always been in the middle, so the clashes of cultures, and the differences, I’ve always kind of stood out so for me the arts was my escape,” she says. “America gave me that beautiful sense of having an open mind about the world, and that acceptance with everyone and what everyone brings to the table and their own originality. For me [til] this day I still feel very European and I feel like maybe my life trained me.” Castillo claims folks still try to figure out what she is.  One thing she’s very clear about though, is that she won’t let society label her.

“Don’t try to put me in a box. I am not an Afro-Latina. I’m just a mix Caribbean woman. Soy Latina. Our taste for life, the foods we eat, the music alone, the views, the passions we have about everything, that’s what Latina means to me,” she says. “We are just a beautiful mix of passionate people, can’t we just be that?”

This passionate and multi-talented artist has truly spread her wings across Hollywood making her mark and garnering attention not only as an actress but as a filmmaker as well. Castillo wrote the screenplay, produced and is the Lead Actress in MAMBA, which, according to her press team, has been screening in multiple countries and states across the US. “MAMBA has won Eight Awards for Best Short Film, Best Action Film, Best Action Thriller & Best Actress for Sonalii. She was also nominated three times for best actress for MAMBA and received two wins.”

It doesn’t stop there as Castillo has also appeared in several films and independent projects. She recently booked a leading role in the Sci-Fi Thriller, ‘Variant’ playing the role of Mackenzie Styles. “She joined the cast of the latest remake of “The Saint” as Sonali Alves, starring Adam Rayner as The Saint and Eliza Dushku as Patricia Holms. She also starred in “Reboot,” a cyberpunk film that has quickly become the buzz in the cyber world and is building a huge following worldwide.” Not to mention Sonalii also created a web-series titled “Voodoo Vanessa,” which has screened in various film festivals and has won two awards for “Best Web Series.”

Maybe a better question to ask would be, what can’t this kick-ass Latina do or accomplish? “I was always very artistic. I realized when I got older I had to express myself differently, and that was art,” shared Castillo. “All I ever wanted was to tell my stories. I didn’t come out here to become a director, I didn’t come out here to become a writer, producer, I came out here to tell stories, and I wasn’t getting that opportunity.”

As an actress, Castillo shared challenges she faced as well. “All I wanted was to be an actress, model, take photos because I tell stories through photos. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to be a lead in anything,” Castillo adds while mentioning some of the barriers she came across in the roles she would audition for. “My first time I was given a role that I wanted was The Saint. They weren’t looking at my skin color, or cared that I wasn’t 5’9. When I asked why they picked me they said, ‘Because when we saw you on tape it was your attitude and when you threw that first punch we knew it was you.’ That was my first role where I was a strong woman, the boss, where it didn’t matter, I was just who I was.”  She elaborates on the importance of advocating for yourself and creating opportunities when they aren’t there. 

“Now we are at a point in Hollywood that if you want something that represents you, that you feel you should do, you just have to do it on your own,” Castillo says. “It’s this kind of determination and passion and surrounding herself with a great team, that has led her to create successful award winning films like Mamba.

This “fiery Earth woman” as Castillo described herself, is truly a Latina leading lady trailblazer who’s made it a point to go after what she wants and breathe life into projects that not only garnered her awards but placed her on the map to the road ahead where the sky really is the limit.

To keep up with this Dominican beauty as her journey continues as an Actor/Model/World Traveler Adventurer, fire dancer, (Yes, she does that too) among many other talents, follow her here:




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Afro Latinx Afro-Latina Dominican actress latina latinx Latinx identity
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