With the political climate we live in, there is an ever-rising thirst for representation. This is especially true for the entertainment we seek out to cope with the never-ending depressing news cycle. Setting a precedent with an all-black cast in a tentpole film, Black Panther is a superhero story that some hope will open the door for more chances to see people of color on the big screen. The thought of having a live-action Hollywood blockbuster that breaks records with an entirely Latino cast and helmed by a Latino director, is almost too much to bear.
Latina actresses have had the unfortunate experience of being relegated to roles based on stereotypes and tropes for decades. The maid, nanny, cook, mistress; those are the standard choices when searching for roles. This is especially true for Afro-Latina actresses. While some might think the conversation about Afro-Latinas started with Amara La Negra, this has been a hot topic for quite some time. Catching a glimpse of an Afro-Latina on TV or in movies is a rarity, like stumbling upon an oasis in a desert. However, when you find one, it’s just as rare to have an Afro-Latina actress portray an actual Afro-Latina character on screen. Mainstream media still seems to ascribe to the belief that you can either be black or Latina, but not both. In this day and age, in the year 2018, we hoped to see more progress, but it is a slow process.
However, there has been a slight uptick of prominent Afro-Latinas in entertainment as of late, and they are a phenomenal group of women. We pulled together a list of 15 amazing Afro-Latina actresses who are changing the game. These women are leading the charge in not only dismissing the tired Latina stereotypes, they are also breaking records and taking names in the process, and even breaking a few hearts. Some are marveling the world as superheroes, some are changing the voice acting world from behind the scenes, and all are leaving the rest of us breathless with their amazing talent. Some are new to the scene, and others have become well respected veterans and have had their work span decades. Ranging in all different hues of beautiful melanin, and from many different countries, we wanted to highlight these women with boundless strength and determination to make it in a business that doesn’t always welcome them. And while this list only holds 15, we hope to one day have a list of 50 Afro-Latina actresses who are killing it in Hollywood.
Born and raised in New York City, the Bronx to be specific, Cuban-American actress Gina Torres dabbled in singing while attending the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, better known as the school the 1980 movie Fame was based on. Torres dabbled in sci-fi with her first major television role in the short-lived Cleopatra 2525. She came to prominence as the take-no-prisoners co-captain of the spaceship Serenity in Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western series Firefly. Though it was a one-season wonder it amassed a cult following, making Torres a distinctive personality for various other television shows (Anna Espinosa forever, for all you Alias fans out there). After reprising her role of Zoe in Serenity, the 2005 spin-off film based on Firefly, Torres started branching out to more movies, starring in the Chris Rock comedy I Think I Love My Wife and Matrix Revolutions. But Torres is killing it the most where she began: television. Last year alone she starred in seven series and TV movies, voicing the character of Ketsu Onyo in Star Wars: Forces of Destiny. She recently concluded a seven-year arc on the USA legal drama Suits and pops up in the TNT cop comedy Angie Tribeca.
– Kristen Lopez
Permeating nearly every facet of media with her fantastic ability to act, sing and dance, Rosario Dawson is the definition of multitalented. Raised in New York’s Lower East Side, the Puerto Rican and Cuban-American Dawson started her career at the age of 16 in the controversial Larry Clark drama Kids. Since then Dawson’s been a chameleon, dabbling in nearly everything from comedy (Clerks 2) to musicals (the adaptation of Rent) to voicework (she was Batgirl in last year’s LEGO Batman movie). In her spare time, Dawson is an activist. In 2016, she starred in a PSA with Wilmer Valderrama to entice Latinos to get out the vote. She was also one of several Latinas to share her support for the sexual harassment movement #TimesUp. You can currently see her on your TV screens as Jane Ramos, Petra’s attorney on Jane the Virgin. She also has three movies of which she’s the star: the virtual reality short BattleScar, the animated action comedy Henchmen, and the dramedy Krystal. And while she hasn’t gotten the opportunity to be in a Star Wars film you can see her on the Marvel-centric Netflix series Daredevil, Jessica Jones and The Defenders as nurse Claire Temple.
– Kristen Lopez
Born Carmara DaCosta Johnson, the actress known as Yaya Dacosta has Afro-Brazilian and African-American roots and speaks five languages. She started modeling and was runner-up in the third season of America’s Next Top Model. In 2008, she broke out as Cassandra Foster on the long-running daytime soap All My Children before getting the role as Vanessa Williams’ rebellious daughter Nico on the America Ferrera-led sitcom Ugly Betty. In 2016, she got her biggest role to date as the villainous Tally in the Shane Black 1970s comedy The Nice Guys where she sparred against Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Since then she’s returned to television starting with her leading role in the 2015 drama Chicago Fire. That series spawned a short-lived spin-off called Chicago P.D., of which Dacosta would reprise her role as April Sexton. She can currently be seen on the show’s remaining spin-off series, Chicago Med. On the film front, Dacosta is set to appear in the Toni Braxton-led faith-based TV movie Faith Under Fire and will star in the drama Bolden, a loose account of Buddy Bolden, known as the Cornet King of New Orleans.
– Kristen Lopez
Though only working as an actress since 2011, Dominican-American Dascha Polanco has made a name for herself through her breakout role as Dayanara “Daya” Diaz on the Netflix jailhouse dramedy Orange is the New Black. Peppered in amongst her three-year turn on that Golden Globe-nominated series Polanco starred alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the 2015 comedy Joy and Adam Sandler in 2014’s The Cobbler. It’s only recently that Polanco has embraced her Afro-Latina heritage, stating in a 2017 interview for Vivala that she was pressured to tone down her roots to get acting jobs. Last year, she starred in an off-Broadway play called “Tell Hector I Love Him” about a group of people living in the slums of San Juan. Audiences can see her on the small screen every week as the dogged Detective Lori Wieder on Ryan Murphy’s latest crime anthology, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; her role is so great we’ve been begging for more. She’ll also star in the romantic drama iGilbert later this year.
– Kristen Lopez
If social media is anything to go off of it feels like actress Tessa Thompson has blown up in just a few years. Thompson is Afro-Panamanian on her father’s side and European and Mexican on her mother’s. She quickly obtained character arcs on popular television shows before coming to the attention of film fans as the acerbic Samantha White in the racially charged Dear White People in 2014. Since then her characters have always had a hint of political activism, from playing African-American activist Diane Nash in Ava DuVernay’s Selma to the character of Detroit in the upcoming Boots Riley film Sorry to Bother You. Last year, she utterly slayed as the kick-ass Valkyrie in the Marvel comic book film Thor: Ragnarok. The character, originally written as a white woman in the comics, was changed for the Afro-Latina Thompson and no one could have owned it better. In fact, the character inspired a comic book of its own! This year, she’ll star as a scientist opposite Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Isaac in Annihilation, reprise her role as Bianca in the boxing sequel Creed II, and return to the sci-fi theme park of Westworld as the villainous Charlotte Hale.
– Kristen Lopez
Zoe Saldaña has come a long way from playing the fiery Eva Rodriguez in the 2000 ballet drama Center Stage. The half Dominican and half Puerto Rican Saldaña was raised in New Jersey, but after her father passed away her mother moved her and her sisters to the Dominican Republic where she started dancing. In 2003, Saldaña graced movie screens as Gabriella, giving Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow all manner of trouble in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Since then Saldaña has been on a roll with franchise features starting with Lieutenant Uhura in three Star Trek films. But her best known roles find her covered in makeup, from Neytiri in the James Cameron film Avatar, to her most popular role as the rebel Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. Saldaña’s dabbled in playing characters of African-American and Latina origins. Her 2011 actioner Colmbiana and 2016’s Live By Night saw her play residents of Cuba, and she’s played singer Nina Simone in the singer’s biopic. This year she’ll reprise her role as Gamora in the massive comic team-up Avengers: Infinity War and is prepped to visit the world of Pandora as Neytiri for a rumored four additional Avatar sequels.
– Kristen Lopez
You can’t say Nuyorican actress Rosie Perez isn’t the hardest working performer in entertainment. She has a career spanning nearly thirty years to prove it! She literally burst onto the screen in 1989, showing off her dance skills, in Spike Lee’s racially charged drama Do the Right Thing. With her trademark high-pitched voice and take-no-prisoners dominance she’s racked up memorable appearances in the likes of White Men Can’t Jump and The Counselor. She most recently starred in the British television series Bounty Hunters. In March, she’ll star in the NBC drama Rise, created by Friday Night Lights’ Jason Katims. Perez plays Tracy in the series, a “no-holds-barred…current drama school teacher…who is finding someone else with passion and vision can still inspire her.” When she isn’t working, Perez is an activist, discussing the lack of proper representation for Latinas and she made headlines confirming and discussing her long-time friend Annabella Sciorra’s allegations of rape against Harvey Weinstein. She’s also inspiring the new generation outside of film. In 2015, three New York-based DJs started a party to honor Latinx culture dubbed A Party Called Rosie Perez that’s been going strong for the last two years.
– Kristen Lopez
Even before Beyoncé was the Queen Bee, Dominican-American actress Dania Ramirez broke into the scene as “Jay-Z’s girl” in the rapper’s 1998 music video Streets is Watching. From there, Ramirez – born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and raised in New York – went on to star in a number of popular TV shows, including The Sopranos, Entourage,and Heroes. In 2013, Ramirez landed the most extensive role of her TV career when she was cast on Devious Maids as a housekeeper caught in the middle of some major drama (she gets shot and falls into a coma in Season 2). Most recently, Ramirez was tapped to play Cinderella (and her “cursed counterpart” Jacinda) in the seventh and final season of the hit ABC series Once Upon a Time, which will run through the end of April 2018. She is the first Latina to play the iconic princess in a major TV show or movie. “Unlike other Cinderella stories, she’s not a damsel in distress,” Ramirez told Entertainment Weekly last fall. “She’s not waiting to just go and meet the prince and marry him and have this guy come sweep her off her feet. She’s really just fighting for herself.”
– Kiko Martinez
In the industry for more than 25 years, Dominican-American actress Judy Reyes has been blowing up the TV screen since landing small one-episode roles on shows like Law & Order, NYPD Blue and The Sopranos. Reyes, who was born and raised in the Bronx, got her big break in the business in 2001 when she earned a main role in the comedy sitcom Scrubs as Carla Espinosa, an outspoken, loving nurse who always referred to Zach Braff’s character as “Bambi.” More recently, Reyes’ stock continues to rise with a number of television series, including Devious Maids, Jane the Virgin and Claws where she plays main character Quiet Ann, a lesbian ex-con security guard at a nail salon with ties to organized crime. This year, Reyes can be seen in a recurring role in the remake of the Netflix dramedy series One Day at a Time. In the show, she plays Ramona, a friend of Justina Machado’s character Penelope Alvarez, who is in the same veterans’ therapy group as her. Last year, Reyes starred as a congresswoman in the dystopian thriller The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
– Kiko Martinez
Luna (Lauren) Vélez
Puerto Rican actress Luna Vélez, who formerly went by the name Lauren, was born and raised in New York City where she excelled in the drama department at her high school. After studying dance and acting in her formative years, Vélez booked a main role in the 90s crime-drama series New York Undercover as Det. Nina Moreno. At the same time, Vélez starred in HBO’s first one-hour drama series Oz, which kept her busy until the show ended in 2003. On the show, she played Dr. Gloria Nathan, the chief attending physician at the prison and actually survives in the series. Three years later, she landed the biggest role of her TV career on the Showtime series Dexter where she played Det. Maria LaGuerta, an officer in the Miami Metro Homicide department who is the closest any character ever was on the series to solidify Dexter’s true identity as a serial killer. She currently plays the president of Middleton University on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. This July, Vélez will make her feature film debut in a nationwide release with the horror prequel The First Purge opposite Marisa Tomei and fellow Latina Melonie Diaz.
– Kiko Martinez
Cuban-American singer, songwriter and actress Christina Milian, who was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, as Christine Flores and raised in Waldorf, Maryland, was signed with the Def Jam recording label in 2000 when she was only 19 years old. The following year, she released her self-titled debut album featuring popular singles “AM to PM” and “When You Look at Me.” Her second studio album featured her hit song “Dip it Low.” Along with releasing three studio albums and one EP, Milian has also given much of her attention to making it in the film and TV industry. Over the last 15 years, she has starred in a host of movies, including Love Don’t Cost a Thing, Torque, Man of the House, Be Cool and Baggage Claim. On the small screen, she was seen in two TV series: Grandfathered and Hulu’s East Los High plus three reality shows: The Voice as a social media correspondent, Dancing with the Stars as a contestant and Superhuman as a judge and panelist. Since 2010, Milian has given voice to the character Esther, Meg’s close friend, on the animated series Family Guy.
– Kiko Martinez
It has been over 20 years since Panamanian-American actress and singer Tatyana Ali last played the most well-known character of her career, Ashley Banks, on the hit TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air opposite Will Smith. Before her role on Fresh Prince, she already had extensive experience from her five years working on Sesame Street. Over the years, Ali, who was born in North Bellmore, New York, has been seen in film such as Kiss the Girls, Jawbreaker, Glory Road, and a handful of made-for-TV movies. More recently, Ali is attached to two new TV shows: Fly, which is based on the true story of the first commercial airline flight that employed an all-African-American crew; and Olive Forever, a USA Network comedic crime drama about a teenage con artist. Ali received a lot of support this year when she posted on social media about her own #metoo experience when she was lured into a hotel room by a male director she worked with in her early 20s.
– Kiko Martinez
The career of half-Cuban, half-Dominican actress Selenis Leyva, who was born in Baracoa, Cuba, and raised in the Bronx, has been strong since debuting on a single episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 1999. While other TV shows and independent films have come and gone, including Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, there’s no denying how big of a role Leyva has been playing on five seasons of the award-winning Netflix hit Orange is the New Black. Her character Gloria Mendoza, an inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary, continues to get more revered as the series continues. In the last episode of the most recent season, Gloria is stuck in a prison riot and worried about her son who had to have emergency surgery. The episode ends with a cliffhanger as Gloria and a group of holdouts stand strong as the SWAT team blows the doors off their bunker right before the credits role. Fans have already been promised a sixth and seventh season, so Orange is far from over. Last year, Levya also had a role in Spider-Man: Homecoming as a high school physics teacher. During an interview with Remezcla for the film, she said she feels “an even bigger platform has opened for me.”
– Kiko Martinez
Puerto Rican and African-American actress and producer Reagan Gomez-Preston was born in Detroit, Michigan and got her start on the WB family comedy The Parent ‘Hood in 1995. She was featured as a main character on the show for five seasons. In 2009, she landed a voice acting role as Roberta Tubbs on the Family Guy-spinoff animated series The Cleveland Show. In 2015, she created a sci-fi web series called Surviving after her first web series, Almost Home, was a success online. You can see both shows on her YouTube channel. Currently, Gomez-Preston stars on the OWN series Queen Sugar, which is executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and created by Ava DuVernay. The show has been renewed for a third season. She also gives voice to the characters Jenny and Kiki Pizza on the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe. Like many Afro-Latina actresses she’s faced anti-blackness in the industry. In an interview with Latina, she shared: “I was told early on that I could not audition for Latina characters because I’m black. And as much as I adore Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek, there are many amazing Latinas who don’t look like them. Afro-Latinxs also deserve to be represented, in all aspects of life.”
– Kiko Martinez
La La Anthony
She started as an MTV VJ on Total Request Live in the early 2000s, but Puerto Rican actress, producer, TV personality, and best-selling author La La Anthony’s talent has extended across as many industries as she has been able to get her hands on. Over the last few years, Anthony has starred in a string of films, including Think Like a Man Too, Chi-Raq and Baggage Claim. She also appeared in her own reality show twice: La La’s Full Court Wedding in 2010 and La La’s Full Court Life which lasted for five seasons. She earned her most prominent role of her acting career in 2014 on the Starz crime drama Power. On the show, she plays LaKeisha Grant, a hair stylist and entrepreneur who was a recurring character in Seasons 1-3, but was made a main character in Season 4. In 2017, she had parts on the TV shows Daytime Divas and Bull, and the mini-series The New Edition Story. Anthony, who was born and raised in New York City, is also attached to a new comedy movie, Furlough, which stars Tessa Thompson and Whoopi Goldberg.
– Kiko Martinez
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