Zoe Saldana Is Becoming The Hero Hollywood Needs

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“When I started acting I always felt alienated because I was considered exotic, or different, or too skinny for this, or too light for that. These pigeonholes can only make you feel different or excluded. Overtime you just start to ask yourself, ‘When will I be considered for what I have to contribute?’” said Zoe Saldana, the actress best known for her roles in Avatar, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Saldana is starting her own media company, BeSe to bring greater diversity to Hollywood and 'share the real stories of Latin Americans.'

Saldana was inspired to start BeSe after she became a mother. “I want my children to have the same ample opportunities that other people have. I want them to grow up in an America that is worthy of them,” she said.

Research undertaken by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative in 2016 found that Latinos remain the most underrepresented minority group when it comes to speaking roles in film and television. “We need to hire, develop and promote talent from diverse backgrounds in order for us to create a workforce that more accurately reflects the demographic make-up of America,” said Saldana.

This issue of representation is even more complex for Latino women, who are stereo-typically depicted in a ‘sexy’ way on screen. Saldana is hoping to overcome these stereotypes by, ‘giving a voice to underrepresented and marginalized communities.’

“It is important for me to be able to provide inspiration by highlighting the role models, both past and present, who can change perceptions of these communities,” she said. In this interview Saldana shares why we need more diverse heroes in Hollywood and how she is working to make that happen.

Michelle King: Why do you think there is a lack of diversity in media and entertainment? 

Zoe Saldana: It is just that media companies, network studios, publishers and executives are all still predominately white and male. Additionally, the news media overall has a significant under-representation of Latinos. It is really about 4%. If you look at the producer level it is less than 2%. So, it is no wonder that the stories of Latinos comprise less than 1% of all news media coverage, and often they are not positive stories.

King: What are you hoping to achieve with the launch of your company BeSe

Saldana: I really want to broaden and reshape the narrative so that I can better reflect the America we see today, when we walk outside our front door. I want to unite us, by celebrating our diversity. Half of America today, under the age of 35, is multicultural. And half of that is Latino but this is not reflected in our mainstream media. I want to participate in the broadening of the narrative.

King: Why is it important to start with mainstream media? 

Saldana: If we start with mainstream media, then other areas will follow like education, politics, finance, science, technology and healthcare. By showing what American faces really look like today, versus 50 years ago, you will be able to show the younger generation role models that better reflect their own faces and stories.

By doing this we are invoking aspiration. When you don’t have a role model, you have very limited ideas of what you want to be when you grow up. I know this sounds corny (or like a Marvel movie) but it is true. Younger generations are always looking for a hero to aspire to.

King: Why are role models such an important part of increasing diversity on screen? 

Saldana: When I was growing up and started to become inspirational (through my work) I felt excluded. I felt that I wasn’t highlighted enough and that people who looked like me we were not highlighted in a positive way. That can become very disheartening. I would love to have been the next Jane Austen and have written an impact-full novel. But when I was growing up not that many people of color were breaking the glass ceiling of best sellers.

So, overtime you start to think do I have to fight harder or is it just impossible? If that is the case then that is unfair because I don’t want to change who I am. I don’t want to become something else. I just want the opportunity to believe that I can become anything.

King: What are your plans for BeSe and what can people expect?  

Saldana: We are going to start with the Latin community because it is the most marginalized, according to its size and growth. But we will also focus on all communities that have been underrepresented or misrepresented, like women and the LGBTQ community. You can expect to see multicultural stories (in a range of formats) with an initial focus on stories that cover social impact, culture and identity. Making diverse stories will give the under-served the representation that they need to feel included and a part of America.