The A Plus Interview

Zoe Saldana’s Out-Of-This-World Characters Address A Problem And An Opportunity In Hollywood

"The roles provided for me on Earth are limited ..."

The A Plus Interview reimagines the celebrity interview by inviting artists to answer a short series of brief, poignant questions that strive to be more meaningful than those asked by others. Check back each month for the latest installment.

It's quite unlikely that any movie fan would fail to recognize Zoe Saldana, even though she often takes on roles that alter her appearance. Look no further than the Marvel Cinematic Universe (where she plays Gamora in the two Guardians of the Galaxy films as well as 2018's Avengers: Infinity War) and 2009's Avatar (which featured her as a Na'vi named Neytiri). This, for Saldana, is a purposeful choice.

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"It feels like it's an absolute reflection of who I am in my life," Saldana told A Plus at an event celebrating the launch of the new American Express Cash Magnet Card. "I don't define myself every day by labels. I live life wanting to do good for myself and wanting to do good for others. I want to leave behind a legacy of work that reminds people that you're more than just the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual preference, or your culture."

See, what makes Gamora and Neytiri so different from other characters Saldana has played is that they are green and blue, respectively. It's this departure from the reality we live in that helps Saldana shed any demographical descriptor that might apply to her and makes it so that she can morph herself into something entirely new.

Photo Credit: Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com

"You're an individual and you get to make your own decisions," Saldana continued. "If I only went after Latina roles or roles of women of color then I'm not really exercising my desire to be an artist full-heartedly and whole-heartedly. The purpose of being an actor is to be a chameleon where you get to play different things. When the roles provided for me on Earth are limited, then space felt like the right place to go."

Space has certainly been a refuge for Saldana, who also plays Uhura in the Star Trek franchise, and it has certainly paid off. The 40-year-old recently became the only actor to be a leading star of two movies that topped $2 billion at the box office with Infinity War joining the James Cameron-directed Avatar in that elite echelon. What message does that send to Hollywood that a woman — and not only that but a woman of color — has helped break box office records?

Photo Credits: 20th Century Fox | Marvel/Disney

"Not just to Hollywood, but to people in general. Let's stop labeling ourselves and let's stop labeling one other," Saldana explained. "I avoid being typecast. I don't want to be introduced as this Black woman, this Latina woman, or just this woman. I want my accomplishments to be recognized first before the color of my skin, my gender, or my sexual orientation. I've actively pursued this in my career by avoiding stereotypes. I ended up in space and I guess space paid off."

Another role Saldana has taken on is stepping out of the acting side and more into the storytelling side. There's BESE, which was started to showcase diversity by setting out to "broaden and reshape the cultural narrative by shining light on the untold stories that reflect today's America." Then there's Cinestar, which she started with her sisters in the hopes of telling more women-focused stories. Starting these things, for Saldana, is about making things better for the next generation.

Photo Credit: Bill Davila / StarTraks courtesy of American Express

"It's trying to finally come to terms with my American experience as a woman, a New Yorker, as a woman of color, as a first-generation Latina — how I constantly felt marginalized in mainstream media even though I was not an individual that marginalized myself," Saldana said. "I don't want my sons to have that experience, I don't want them to have to work twice as hard. I want my country to be worthy of them because they're special and I want their merits to be credited on not just what they look like or where they come from."

As for who Saldana, who plays some out-of-this-world characters considered superheroes, that honor belongs to those like her mom, her sisters, and her community — all the mentors she has had that, during times of adversity, reminded her that she mattered and that she could actually do something with herself.

"To this day they are still my heroes because, thanks to them and the words they encouraged me with, I have gotten as far as I have," Saldana concluded. "We need role models that are always instilling in us positive thinking and actionable tasks in our lives because then you believe in it."

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