"I've wanted to be an actress since I was about six years old and living in the Dominican Republic. By the time I was 15, my mom moved us from the Dominican Republic to Hollywood so I could pursue my dream. I went to Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, which is an audition-only magnet school with performing arts classes. I was dorky and a bit of a nerd; I sang, danced, and played the saxophone for ten years. But I was so happy. And then I started auditioning, and it was very, very hard. Hollywood was only used to seeing Mexican-Americans, and here I was, this Dominican girl with curly long hair and brown skin. So I would try to work with agents, and they would say, ‘I don’t know where to place you, you don’t look the type.’ I was like, 'What do you mean the type? They asked for a Latina, and I am Latina! We come in all different colours and sizes; in the Dominican Republic, we all look different!’ But they wouldn’t take me on as a client because they just didn't know what to do with me or what kind of roles to put me up for. As a teenager, I got in a nearly fatal car accident where I almost lost my life. That was a wake up call for me that I was going after my dreams no matter what. But even still, it took me a few years until I booked my first role when I was 20, in 2006. I had two lines on a show called The Shield and I got my SAG card and I felt like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this...I booked something!’ It wasn't an easy road after that, though, either. My first jobs were very few and far between.
The fact is that the white girl is always the lead, right? So the goal is to get that gig.
After a while, I kind of gave up on acting and focused on music, which was what brought me to New York. But I missed acting so much that I decided to try for a random audition, which was for the role of Flaca on Orange Is The New Black, a Latina chick who listens to The Smiths. I’m first-generation American. There are a lot of people like me and Flaca who speak both perfect English and perfect Spanish. We should be represented on television, and that’s why I think Orange Is The New Black is so popular, because people are finally seeing themselves on TV. Right now, I'm about to go audition for another part wearing a Smiths T-shirt, because the role is for a punk rock chick. Flaca has reminded me that a character can be a chick who listens to punk rock music and also just so happens to be Latina. I don't have to only be limited to roles where I have to pretend to have an accent or cross the border. I have another friend who’s Latina and tall like me — she’s from Cuba, and because there are so few roles for Latinas in Hollywood, we always find ourselves auditioning for the same thing. The other night on the phone she said, ‘You know what? We just need to get that white girl role.’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, that’s what we need to get, that white girl role!’ It sounds funny, but it's like, the fact is that the white girl is always the lead, right? So the goal is to get that gig.
But right now, there just aren't enough opportunities for Latinas in this industry — which also means we all end up auditioning against each other. I’ll literally see my entire Latina cast from OITNB auditioning for one role, and that gets to me. Like, why, can’t we have more than one Latin girl, one Black girl, one white girl? I try not to feel competitive, but of course I’m human. With [OITNB co-star and friend] Diane [Guerrero], we always find ourselves going out for the same role; it's happened to us more than a few times. So we have an automatic understanding that's like 'Call me if you get the part, because I really wanted it,’ you know? It's sad, but you just don’t see eight different Latinas in one show. I just want to shake Hollywood and say hey, anyone can play anyone; there's no reason they have to fit into a stereotype.
There are tons of auditions for Latina characters that I still don’t book because I’m not the glamorous "Hollywood Latina type."
It is frustrating when a casting director says, 'Can you be a little more Nuyorican?' And I'm like, uh, I'm not Puerto Rican, but okay. But you know what? It’s a character, so I don’t mind creating this imaginary Nuyorican character — after all, I'm Dominican, but Flaca on OITNB is from Mexico. It's interesting to me and challenging to play someone who's different from myself, but I do want to make sure the character is layered — and not just some stereotype of what Hollywood thinks a Latina is. I'll get those stereotypical accented cross-the-border auditions, but then on the opposite end, there are tons of auditions for Latina characters that I still don’t book because I’m not the glamorous 'Hollywood Latina type.' Most casting directors are used to pretty, dark haired, petite girls like Eva Longoria and Salma Hayek. I don't look like them. But you know what? That just means that I need to break some barriers, which is why I want to create my own production company. If you’re not going to hire me, I’m going to hire myself, and I’m going to write for myself. I’m going to show you that I can do it. The reality is that aside from being Latina, sometimes I’m just too tall, or too short, or just not the right fit for a particular role. But I’m still going to try and never give up, because look at how long it took me to even get where I am now. I've been at this since I was 15, and it was only recently that I got my one big yes. I’m so grateful for Orange Is the New Black. I hope eventually that will open doors to my next dream, which is to book a movie. I want to encourage my fellow minorities to speak up, especially in the time that we're living in right now. The recent election taught me that no voice is too small. I'm going to stand up for what I believe in and keep pushing for inclusivity, both on screen and off. Yes, I’m Dominican, and yes I speak this language and this is my culture, and I want my people to be represented so the world can get to know us. But I also hope that eventually, we'll get to a point where people like me can book roles or get jobs simply because of their talent — not the color of their skin." —As told to Arianna Davis
Hollywood is governed by outdated myths. Myth 1: Non-white actors don’t generate box office returns. But researchers at the University of North Carolina and McGill University found that films featuring Black actors earned roughly 60% more than films with no Black actors. Diverse films perform better. Still, actors and actresses of colour remain persistently underrepresented in all strata of entertainment, from studio and network chiefs (which are roughly 94% white), to leads in film and on TV (where they remain outnumbered by roughly 2 to 1). Beyond The Hashtag is R29’s take on the persistence of racism in Hollywood, from financing and directing to casting and moviegoing. Let's look at the signs of hope for a change.