Obscuring Ethnicity: POC, Cut It Out
Because of films like Avatar and Star Trek (2009), Zoë Saldaña is not one of my underappreciated actresses of color. Before these films she would've qualified because people - myself included - often forgot about her. The lil sis informed that when Zoë wasn't doing films, she was traveling the world modeling (hence the vast volumes of pix of her on Google). When I look at her, I think, "She was making bank. She's making bank. She'll be making bank for a long while."
When I go to the D.R., the press in Santo Domingo always asks, "¿Qué te consideras, dominicana o americana?" (What do you consider yourself, Dominican or American?) I don't understand it, and it's the same people asking the same question. So I say, time and time again, "Yo soy una mujer negra." ("I am a black woman.") [They go,] "Oh, no, tú eres trigueñita." ("Oh no, you are 'dark skinned'") I'm like, "No! Let's get it straight, yo soy una mujer negra." ("I am a black woman.")
So even though I think she's not a particularly phenomenal actress, is way too thin, and represents the gay white man's ideal black woman, I still have mad respect for Zoë Saldaña. She's a businesswoman. She knows how to hustle; she's getting the kind of pay many Hollywhite veterans have only dreamed of for the last 20-30 years of their careers. And through it all, Zoë's never stopped being a proud black woman.
When she steps onto the stage or in front of the camera, she lets people know upfront who she is and what she's about. This tells me that her march towards success has been a long difficult one; she probably endured a lot of shit from white people and lighter-skinned Latinos in the industry, and now she simply refuses to let the people who probably dismissed her in the past try to step in and "claim" her now. Why? Because people like Zoë remind all black people that it can be done. Yes, it'll be hard, and yes, it will take a while, but if you stick with it, it can be done.
Furthermore, people like Zoë understand how their fellow black people need to be seen in positively and prominently in media, and thus are proud to represent us and not "possibly" someone else.
Which brings me to a couple of other ladies I'd like to discuss.
With all the white saturation going on Hollywood, it wouldn't hurt for a Latina on the silver screen say, "Yup, I'm Latina. I'm on this big-ass screen, making this money, being drooled over by everyone, and reppin' my people with pride. Fuck you and your 'cockroach' shit, blaming people like me for your country's financial and military fuck-ups - sit in front of your mirrors and wish this was you, bitches."
In Thailand, I'm mistaken as Thai, in New Zealand I've been told I look Polynesian, Indians can see my Indian heritage and in America, I've been told I look African American or Latin American. I like it that way.Yes...but once again, how many East Indian-descended women are main cast characters on hit show garnering odes of attention in the White, White West? If you're a young, East Indian-descended woman living in these disunited states, where an Asian of any ethnicity on TV is a rarity in and of itself, it wouldn't hurt for you the know that the most resilient, resourceful, clever, and absolutely beautiful woman on Spartacus is a woman like you. That out of the sea of whitewashed shows and white-saturated films, there is a woman on TV amassing a cult following, and she is just like you.
Now, I get why some actresses might tone down/gloss over their POC heritage, while using oh-so-anglicized names in the industry (even more kudos to Zoë Saldaña). They get to play a variety of ethnicities. If they're like Jennifer Beals, they can even go so far as to pull a full-on passe blanc. And in this - literally - crazy age of fandom, it helps them dodge the wrath and whining of "some" people. In short, it's less about appearing ambiguously POC, and more about being white-friendly. Because we know that on these shows, whenever a woman is cast and she appears to have even the slightest touch of color, and she's kept "ambiguous" or "unspecified", it's often some white writer/director/producer's idea - especially if she engages in a relationship which appears interracial (notice that on Spartacus, everyone's proud to be Roman, Thracian, Gaul, Syrian, or even African in the case of the Doctore, but we're never told what the hell Naevia is).
Each of these women understands the industry, but I feel Zoë has the best approach: kick ass and take names. You can imagine how many photographers and casting agents are kicking themselves now where she's concerned. As it stands, her financial future is golden, and it's no wonder folks are rushing to "claim" her. I think her unflinching racial openness and consistency are what make her powerful, because the other two are already getting nekkid and doing sex scenes, and unlike with white actresses, when actresses of color do that early in their careers, their days in the spotlight tend to be numbered.