Best Known For: Star Trek, Avatar
I have been extremely busy this past week and I haven’t had time to watch any specific movie I wanted to discuss. I did, however, want to discuss someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood: Zoe Saldana. She starred in two blockbusters last year: Star Trek and Avatar. Her role in Star Trek wasn’t too beefy as she was not the focus and her character, Uhura, lacked development. For example, Uhura and Spock had a burgeoning relationship, but it was never explained how these two people came together. In Avatar, her image is digitally altered to look like the blue alien species, the Na’vi. The character of Neytiri was far more developed and showed real heart. If you ignore the spectacular visual effects for one second and remember that all of Neytiri’s movements, speech and emotion are actually Saldana acting, you can begin to appreciate the performance. James Cameron invented an entirely new world with a new language. The behavior of the Na’vi, their language and their mannerisms were a complete product of imagination and although Cameron was the brainchild, the character would not have worked without an actress with the same fervor for creativity.
It doesn’t stop there; this girl is on fire. After hitting all the big award shows a few months ago, she is again at the multiplex with two new movies coming out in the next few weeks: Death At A Funeral, the American remake of the British film and The Losers, a revenge flick not unlike Kill Bill. The cast of the Death At A Funeral remake is mostly black. I say mostly, because James Marsden and Luke Wilson stick out like sore thumbs in this cast. Interestingly, both of these very white men play love interests of Saldana (Marsden being the current fiancé while Wilson is a former paramour). The casting choice here truly boggles my mind. Judging from the trailer, it seems that the remake will follow the original’s plot closely. However, Saldana’s counterpart in the British version did not have an interracial relationship, so I simply do not see the point in introducing this additional plot element to the story. Not only is it unnecessary, but it is also hackneyed since Guess Who, a comedy about interracial relationships was made only five years ago, ironically ALSO STARRING ZOE SALDANA.
Here is where I go into a rant about Hollywood’s treatment of black actresses, so continue reading after the cut!
In an absolutely fantastic post by gayblackcanadianman, he points out that Saldana’s previous romantic co-stars are Johnny Depp, Ashton Kutcher, Zachary Quinto, and Sam Worthington to which I add James Marsden and Luke Wilson. Not that there is anything wrong with interracial relationships, but is it really that hard to believe that a black man could be interested in dating Zoe Saldana or that she could be interested in dating him? Although she is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, she considers herself a black woman (and thus, so should the rest of the world). She makes herself very clear in the following quote taken from imdb.com:
“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.”)”
If Saldana can be so definitive of herself, why can’t Hollywood follow her lead and put her with a black man? Gayblackcanadianman says it is because this would make Saldana less accessible to the largely white audience and that white men like seeing black women as attainable objects of sexual desire because it empowers them. I completely agree and to that I add that viewing Saldana as a sex kitten makes white people feel better about themselves in another way: by adding Saldana to their list of attractive women, they feel a little less racist.
Hollywood is a moneymaking industry and they have found an equation that works. Apparently a movie with a black man and a black woman as leads is a movie that caters to only the black community, which means it makes a lot less money than if the target audience were expanded. However, this is a dangerously vicious cycle since Hollywood is only further imprinting the masses with the idea that black women should be with white men, white men should see black women as sex objects and that movies with black leads are not meant for white audiences. When will Hollywood realize that it would be a lot less racist to pair up a black actor with a black actress than to try and be edgy with movie after movie of interracial relationships? It’s not a fresh concept any more; get over it!
Unfortunately, this profile turned into a rant and I don’t think I properly expressed how talented I think Saldana really is. She has a great screen presence and has proven herself to be able to carry a movie as the sole female lead (Avatar) and fit into an ensemble (Death At A Funeral, Star Trek). She has taken both dramatic and comedic roles. Although she risks getting pigeonholed as the white man’s fantasy, she has also chosen roles of strong, female characters. Thus far, she hasn’t taken any roles that are demeaning or egregiously compromise her morals. Because of her versatility, I think she has the potential to have the career longevity of someone like Meryl Streep. Streep is a true class act that can also mix and match dramas with comedies and leads with ensembles. I love it when established actors step back, take a supporting role and manage not to overshadow the lead. That takes just as much talent as carrying a film. Understatement is underrated.
What I would love to see her in next: Saldana would fit in great in a Tarantino ensemble piece. Tarantino has a real gift for working with actresses bringing out stunning performances from Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox, Pam Grier, Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger. His actresses always have meaty roles and juicy dialogue. I would love to see what he could achieve with Saldana.
Or she could take a role in a contemporary drama a la American Beauty or Revolutionary Road (with a black co-star of course!).