Over the last several years, many of Zoe Saldana's most inventive roles — in Avatar, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy — have involved exploring new or futuristic worlds. Tomorrow, the actress is taking a deeper dive into our everyday world by launching a digital media company, BESE.
BESE (pronounced "bee-say") gets its name from the word "be" in English and "se," to know, in Spanish. Aimed at millennial and Gen-Z Latinx, BESE will produce digital-first stories in video, editorial, and podcast formats, to be shared on social media channels and BESE.com.
Becoming a media mogul is a new career move for Saldana, but the idea of creating inclusive, informative stories is something she has mulled over for years. Ahead, the actress tells Refinery29 about the gaps she hopes to fill in today's media landscape and how she plans to make a change.
When did you get the idea to start BESE?
"I think it's always been in the making, since the moment I was born! I'm basically sharing my experience as an American. As I've navigated my way through my country and growing up as a public figure, I've seen a disparity between the American public and mainstream media. I was always trying to figure out why this gap existed, and to me, it had to do with the fact that there is an underrepresentation of what America looks like today, which is diversity. It's faces of people that are Americans now.
"I am a part of that population and growing up as an American, I needed culture, and art, and role models that resembled myself. Everything culminated after I became a mother of three American boys. I asked myself how I could contribute to the broadening of the American narrative? What did I want to contribute to my country so that it would be more deserving of my children and of all American youth? BESE was born out of my own personal American experience and my desire to see my country always moving in the right direction."
What kind of stories do you want to tell on BESE?
"Our initial focus will be on stories from the Latinx community, centered on the content verticals of identity, culture, and nation; and our content will have a positive, inclusive, and solution-oriented approach to storytelling and exploration of issues.
"We want to highlight role models past and present to bring much-needed inspiration to the American millennial community. We're starting with the Latinx community because it is the most marginalized and underrepresented according to its size and growth, despite the Latinx community being a key driver of our economy and our society. Half of America under 35 today is nonwhite, yet that's not reflected in the content that gets published every day to the public. Our objective is to broaden that narrative and highlight how these cultures have impacted the fabric of our nation since they arrived.
"After doing research over the past two years, we've identified three key verticals on BESE as Identity, Culture, and Nation. Within our Nation vertical, we have a series called 'Sea Of Change'. That series will highlight proactive individuals that are creating solutions to issues that affect their local communities. We also have a series called 'Hidden Figuras,' which is a take on Hidden Figures; this series will explore the contributions and social impact that people of color have been making on our nation's history. Another example is within our Identity vertical, with a series called 'Be You' that celebrates people breaking out of societal norms to forge unique identities.
"The purpose of this content is to have it be positive, to have it be inclusive and to also be solution-oriented, which is something that's very important. I feel like hate and anger are points of inspiration for many platforms, but they don't really cultivate solutions or aspirations for the public; it just propels anxiety and hate because we’re not providing answers to outstanding issues. The way we see it, instead of having that stance, we're presenting conversations. It's always in conversations that we are able to remain open enough for us to create solutions that we can build on."
You also mentioned that it's an English-language platform. What went into that decision — to make it English-first, as opposed to bilingual?
"The Latinx demographic that we’re going to be focusing on is a generation that is U.S.-born or has been raised here. They comprise nearly two-thirds of the Latinx population today, so this is a generation that is primarily English dominant and digital-mobile first — and it has been largely underserved by present-day media."
I know that one of the plans for BESE involves live events and pop-ups, possibly as soon as June. Is there a theme tied to that?
"We haven’t thought of themes yet, but our desire is that these pop-us will be in different cities across the nation. [Some] are going to be directly inspired through our Nation vertical. We’re going to have conversations that are complex but that we must be having, and our stance and perspective will be to reach positive outcomes and create solutions. Let’s not just rant about it; let’s actually be productive.
"On the side of Culture, we'll have pop-ups that are culturally driven and will be highlighting local artists or public figures who, within their capacity, are making an impact on their communities on a small or a larger scale. We’re going to be inviting them to have conversations, to share their art, to share their knowledge. Our hope with our pop-up events is it create a BESE community all across the nation."
As exciting as the evolution of media can be, it's also challenging — not just from a content perspective but on the business side. How do you intend to navigate some of the challenges of entering this field and starting a media company now?
"I'm focusing on the dream and the hopes that I have for my nation and for ourselves, and when I say 'ourselves,' I mean all Americans. I'm pretty sure that the challenge we will have is whether or not this becomes something that people can identify as a necessity — as, Oh: This is good content that represents me adequately and that I need more of because it is educating me, highlighting me, celebrating me, and inspiring me. The challenge is being a compatible match. That is something that obviously is a fear, but it is not in our control. All we can do is create high-premium content, put it out there, and make sure that the public sees it."
What has working in Hollywood, especially amidst ongoing discussions about #MeToo and diversity, showed you about the importance of creating this kind of media now?
"Last year was a paramount year for so many of us that communicate and inform ourselves through social media. What I've been learning is that the inclusivity, the collaboration, and the solidarity of voices coming together to become stronger — and also through lending support to the voiceless — is where the power and possibility of change lies."