Zoe Saldana on How Being Afro-Latina Hindered Her From Landing Lead Roles


Zoe Saldana has been opening up a lot these days about some of the BS she’s experienced in the film industry. Earlier this month, she got real about the sexism she endured shooting her first major film as pirate Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and now she’s letting the world know how race has played a part in the film roles she’s been able to audition for. The discrimination was no joke.

In a recent interview with Porter, Zoe talks about how being an Afro-Latina hindered her from landing lead film roles. “Every time I read a script, even if it was a period piece, I read it thinking that I was going to go after the lead role,” she said. “It wasn’t until I would come across the introduction of a supporting ethnic role that I realized, ‘Oh.’ I wasn’t even allowed to try to get that main role, because “they want to go traditional on the part.’ I would hang up on that conversation with my agents, thinking, ‘What about me is non-traditional?’ It was a very hard pill to swallow.”

It’s especially upsetting because Zoe is 100 percent American. The 39-year-old was born and raised in New Jersey. It really doesn’t get anymore American than that. Her mother is Puerto Rican and her father was Dominican and she lived back and fourth between the US and Dominican Republic growing up. To not consider Zoe American or “traditional” is not only offensive but highly inaccurate. What Hollywood was essentially telling her wasn’t that she wasn’t “American enough” but that she wasn’t “white enough” to land lead roles in their films. Let’s be real here.

In my country, where I pledged allegiance every day since I was five, to be told when I’m out there trying to pursue my American dream that I was not traditional American was very hurtful,” Zoe said. “I will never accept that I am not a traditional anything. I come from where I come from, I can’t change that, and you come from where you come from. But if you tell me that where you come from is the only right place, and therefore I don’t fit that traditional mold, let’s just establish, very clearly, that you are the one who’s wrong. Because everything about me and where I come from is just as right.”

In fact, it was Zoe’s experience with discrimination that inspired her and her Italian artist husband Marco Perego, to launch a media company BESE, “in an attempt to change perceptions in the world that their [three] sons are growing up in.”

“I want the American narrative to continue, I just want the characters to vary,” she said. Zoe also adds how she feels being a black Latina is part of the reason why she hasn’t landed more magazine covers.

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It was something I was acutely aware of,” she said. “And it was always, like, why? When I’m doing everything they consider right, why am I not on these covers” She goes on to explain how she gets that magazines are a business but how she feels like a lot of it is gender and racially driven. “When females are raised in a female traditional box, they will only gravitate towards certain female traditional things and they will exclude things that feel masculine. I feel like the action genre, for many of these editors, feels rather masculine, and I’m just going to say it like that for their benefit, because I’ve also seen a lot of females that are in action-driven films be on the covers of their magazines … I think it has a lot to do with race.”

The good news is, Afro-Latinas have been getting a lot more love in the mainstream world thanks to actresses like Zoe Saldana, Dascha Polanco, Rosario Dawson and singer Amara La Negra, who has used her platform to talk about the colorism problem that exists within the Latinx community. But Zoe’s interview proves that the fight is far from over and this battle doesn’t just impact Afro-Latinas, but Latinxs in general, as well as other people of color. Let’s keep pushing this dialogue further in efforts to finally see some substantial change, not just in the industry but throughout.

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