Underappreciated Actress of Color #11: Sara Ramirez
You're probably wondering why an actress who's scored a no doubt lucrative deal with Grey's Anatomy is on this list. Quite frankly, I'm not too happy with how Hollywood's treated Sara and here's why: go to google and type in her name. In the helpful hints list which pops up, you'll see "Sara Ramirez" as the first listing, followed by "Sara Ramirez Weight". So for one, there's that.
Hollywood's perception highly influences viewer perception. Sara (pronounced Sada, by the way) was the "gorgeous, curvy" wife of a main character who left her for a "stacked blonde" main character (before he was killed off). After that, her character started dating women ('cause that's just what WoC do when one man decides he doesn't want us).
Now, I'm all for a healthy representation of lesbians/bisexual women--regardless of color. And I applaud Sara's portrayal as a functional, professional, accomplished fleshed-out woman of color in relationships with women (she's yet to define herself as strictly gay). I hope she continues and I hope the writers remain good to her.
But in the meantime, straight women of color also need healthy representation, and Hollywood has yet to provide it consistently--Sara--a tall, thick Latina--initially offered the show some hope in that role. From day one, Sara was not being appreciated on the show. Her love interest was hooked on one white character who didn't want him, and later we find he carried a subconscious torch for another white character who initially didn't want him either. He avoided telling Sara's character he loved her, he avoided commitment, she was called a "mistake" by one of the women he really wanted. He should have never been made her love interest; the writers should've given her a man who was into her for her and who stayed into her (or at least shown her having a healthy, normal dating life). They did it for the main character on the show; they can do it for her as well.
Here's what gets Hollywood in trouble with us: avoidance. There's this desperate avoidance of showing women of color (black women in particular) being desired in a healthy heterosexual manner. Homosexual women of color are portrayed a lot better, perhaps because they're not seen as a "threat".
White writers have this really bad habit of drumming up some reason--any reason--why our characters just have to be left for white ones (Dr. Callie Torres [Sara Ramirez] on Grey's Anatomy, Dr. Camille Saroyan on Bones, and Cho Chang in the Harry Potter Series). If we finally do get a seemingly balanced female character of color in a healthy relationship, her man gets offed (Gina Torres's character loses her husband in Serenity; Gabrielle Union's character is "fated" to lose her fiance on FlashForward). One popular excuse for, say, the last two, is that black women are stronger than others, can handle the loss of a man, and so portraying them in this light honors that strength. Survey says? FAIL.
The scariest part is that Hollywood's actually having trouble reversing its own white audience-conditioning. Because when we do get finally get a smart, competent, confident black woman in a relationship with a guy who loves her back, and they don't break up, and he doesn't die, whites in the audience (especially females) don't like it and find every means possible to devalue and reverse it.
The excuses of "we don't mean it like that" or "it's not that bad" or "we didn't realize it was causing harm" won't be bought, and most certainly not in the 21st Century. Hollywood needs to do start doing much, much better by us, especially since women of color aren't the only ones getting sick of its formula. We need better portrayals of women of color in film and we need it yesterday.