In this SHE Innovates podcast, Latina actress and producer Zoe Saldana shares her experience working to promote more diverse heroes in Hollywood. Michelle King, a leader in UN women’s gender innovation work, spoke with Saldana about the importance of diversity in mainstream media.
Saldana, who has starred in blockbuster films including Star Trek, Avatar, and Guardians of the Galaxy, is a champion of the Latino community, a group that is significantly underrepresented in media. She hopes to give a voice to marginalized communities with the launch of her digital media company, BeSe. The company will serve as a platform for “sharing multicultural stories in a range of formats with an initial focus on stories that cover social impact, culture, and identity.”
Growing up, Saldana felt excluded, noticing that people who looked like her were generally not depicted positively. This issue is further complicated by the pervasive stereotyping of Latinas as “exotic” or “sexy.” According to the Annenberg Foundation/USC Annenberg study Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, women filled only about 31% of speaking roles in 900 of the most popular films of 2016. Of that year’s top 100 films, 34 featured a female lead or co-lead – and only 3 were part of an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.
The importance of diverse role models onscreen
Saldana believes that “making diverse stories will give the underserved the representation that they need to feel included and a part of America.” According to the Latino Media Gap report, in 2013, “despite being 17% of the population, Latinos comprised none of the lead actors among the top ten movies and scripted network TV shows.” Stories about Latinos comprise only about 1% of news media coverage, and most of these portray them as lawbreakers.
Starting with the Latino community, Saldana wants to shine a positive light on underrepresented and misrepresented groups – including women and the LGBTQIA community. On the industry level, she urges film producers to prioritize diversity when hiring. Changing mainstream media, Saldana suggests, will encourage other sectors, such as education, finance, technology, and healthcare, to follow.
Saldana points out that younger generations are always looking for heroes. Without role models, young people may see fewer options and limit their aspirations. Through BeSe Media, Saldana hopes to “show the younger generation role models that better reflect their own faces and stories.”
Listen to Zoe Saldana’s interview on the SHE Innovates podcast.
SHE Innovates is a podcast that shares the stories, challenges, and triumphs of women in innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Listen to all our podcasts on PodBean.