My sexual accessibility has never been up to me, and this was a crucial and painful epiphany to have. Content Warning: this essay mentions depression and instances of sexual coercion. It’s not that I haven’t been celibate before. As someone who lives in the gray area of the asexual and aromantic spectrums, I’ve gone long […]
Zoe Saldana Stay Problematic
Zoe Saldana says sci-fi scripts have caused her to be color-blind and gender-blind. Is it time to get her eyes checked?
Knowing when to shut up is a talent. It’s not a talent I personally possess, but then again I’m not famous. Zoe Saldana, star of multiple sci-fi/action franchises such as Avatar, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy, is. The Dominican actor has been on our radar since her breakout role in the cult teen drama Center Stage, but despite 17 years in the business, has still not figured out how to articulate her opinions on race and gender.
In 2013, Saldana told BET that she grew up in a “color-blind” household and resented the rest of the world’s obsession with race. In 2016, she defended her Blackness on multiple occasions when she was criticized for her casting as Nina Simone in the Nina biopic. She even reassured Allure magazine that, “I am Black. I am raising Black men.” Most recently, she seemed to contradict those statements when she told The Telegraph’s Stellar that playing sci-fi roles has allowed her to be color-blind and gender-blind in her work.
You would think that after all of those missteps and contradictions, Saldana would learn when to say, “No comment.” Sadly, you’d be wrong. After getting dragged on Twitter, she doubled down on her Telegraph comments in an interview with Global Grind, reiterating that her childhood taught her “love and equality for all creatures” and that it was the world that eventually hurt her.
I’m not here to criticize Saldana’s upbringing, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that she is now 38 years old without a fully formed understanding of race and gender. This makes her acceptance of the Nina Simone part all the more problematic. After at first declining the role, she said it was the importance of telling Simone’s story that ultimately pushed her to accept. If that’s the case, why didn’t she make an effort to understand how racism and gender impacted Simone’s life and career? At a certain point, she has to reconcile the lessons of her childhood and try to understand why other parents do feel it’s necessary to teach their children about the intersections of their identities. For many, it’s akin to a survival skill.
As a successful female actor perceived to be Black and Latina, these topics will continue to be brought up in interviews. Many fans are wondering about Saldana’s secrets for success and how she overcomes obstacles related to her gender, ethnicity and race. Her continuous flip-flopping only make her seem like she’s being willfully obtuse and watering down the truth to appear less controversial to blockbuster producers like James Cameron.
From my vantage point, Saldana simply lacks the language to articulate her complex relationship to race and gender. She grew up in a household where such conversations were uncommon and never sought them out for herself. Now an adult, she regularly puts her foot in her mouth instead of gracefully bowing out. The only way for Saldana to fix this problem is to take the initiative to educate herself.
In doing so she’ll realize that the sci-fi worlds she inhabits don’t have to be color- or gender-blind, and when executed well can help the underrepresented envision a future for themselves where differences are celebrated and insurmountable odds are eventually climbed.