Actor Gina Torres had a “rude awakening” early on in her career when the “Suits” star realized that she would be pigeonholed as she sought out roles because of the color of her skin.
Torres spoke Sept. 17 during panel session with Black and Latinx actors organized by the African American Film Critics Association and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, to kick off Latinx Heritage Month on Sept. 17 with a discussion about the experiences of Afro-Latinx talent in the entertainment industry.
Moderated by Magdalena Albizu, director of the documentary “Negrita,” the conversation consisted of Afro-Latinx actors and creatives including Torres, Selenis Leyva, Aida Rodriguez, Rick Gonzales, Yaya DaCosta and Sarah La Morena. Panelists shared their experiences as Afro-Latinx actors in Hollywood and discussed how the industry can better represent all Latinx cultures.
The consensus among the panelists was that they had all faced being pigeonholed into certain roles because of their skin color. Although all identify as Afro-Latinx, some said they were only considered for roles written for Black characters while others were only seen as Latinx. Torres, who co-starred on USA Network’s “Suits” for nine seasons, always felt torn between the two.
“It was a rude awakening and it was a whole other ball game because you had to choose, or rather I should say, they chose for you,” Torres said. “Because I present Black, period, end of sentence, I had to learn how to be what they expected my exterior to match up with whatever the experience was of Blackness, and it was jarring and it was odd. I was not Black enough and I didn’t look Latina enough, and so where do I fit and where do I go and what does it mean?”
Gonzales, best known for his roles in CW’s “Arrow” and 2005’s “Coach Carter,” struggled to convince executives and other actors to take him seriously.
“Why do I have to prove to people that I know everything they know?” Gonzales asked. “Why do I have to change the way I talk and the way I dress to prove to them that I’ve always been a serious actor and I have the same talent that everyone else does?”
La Morena is a singer of African descent who was adopted by a Mexican family. She makes reggaeton and Latin music, which has resulted in backlash from many in the Latinx community.
“Recently one of my videos went viral and I really got to see just what people really think and the colorism in the Latino community is crazy,” La Morena said. “I’ve been receiving a lot of hate and a lot of racism, but I’m honestly thankful because it just gives me the opportunity to educate people.”
In order to educate the industry, true Afro-Latinx representation is key, panelists said. But, this cannot happen without the support of the Latinx community as a whole, according to Rodriguez, a comedian.
“Comedy for me has become, in addition to being funny, I feel like there’s a responsibility to tell those stories because there’s nobody telling them,” Rodriguez said. “When it comes to representation, there’s a serious void when it comes to people who are not from Central America, and then they tokenize us and they make us all stereotypes and that’s a problem.”
Leyva, an alum of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” agreed, adding that people from all Latinx cultures must come together to help each other in this moment.
“Are we protecting our community? Are we supporting our community? I say that’s where we’re lacking. That’s our biggest problem,” Leyva said. “At the end of the day, there is such a divide amongst ourselves. So if we are divided amongst ourselves, what do we expect the industry to do?”
For “Chicago Med” star DaCosta, this means no longer holding back her voice in order to please others in the industry.
“After five years of being what producers have called amenable, pleasant, easy, lovely to work with and what I now know to mean voiceless, scared and brainwashed… It is time,” DaCosta said. “Enough is enough.”
Watch the full panel below: