Fierce

Studios Won’t Cast Black Women In Movies Based On Earth, So Afro-Latinas Like Zoe Saldana And Lupita Nyong’o Are Occupying Space

Well before Nichelle Nichols gained acclaim for “Star Trek” as the first Black woman on TV that wasn’t a servant, speculative fiction was mostly a white man’s game. Sci-Fi, fantasy and action films were a genre where Black guys always died first and white men always saved the day. There was little room for women, let alone Afro-Latinas.

These days, the lack of diversity in modern speculative fiction remains a problem. White men still run the show on and off the screen, and Black men still die first. But, slowly, the playing field is changing. As Marvel gears up for the release of some of its most promising blockbuster hits, “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” among them, I couldn’t help but notice the significant roles Afro-Latinas like Lupita Nyong’o and Tessa Thompson were playing in these films. In fact, from my numbers, it’s not just through Marvel and it’s not just in recent years that Afro-Latinas have lit up the sc-fi/ fantasy screen.

Afro-Latina actresses have been taking Black girl magic to the stars and beyond for a minute, y’all.

Strap in, and I’ll take you on one hell of a nerdy ride to review.

Gina Torres’ role in Space Western drama helped push a show to cult status.

Gina Torres as Zoë Alleyne Washburne in “Firefly” / FOX

Long before she took up the torch as Zoë Washburne of “Firefly,” the Cubana had established herself as a veteran of a number of science fiction/fantasy projects. There was “Cleopatra 2525,” “Alias” and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” After “Firefly,” she went on to star in “The Matrix: Reloaded” and appeared in  last year’s breakthrough HBO show “Westworld.”

But, for me, “Firefly” became the role I knew her for and loved most about her. Mostly because she changed my attitude about the sci-fi shows my dad and brother watched. Torres’ role on “Firefly” was my first positive introduction to a genre I would ultimately go on to love. Sure, sci-fi was nerdy, but put a Black woman at the center of one of those plots, and it could be cool as hell.

Zoë Washburne was the show’s deadly fighter who could kick your ass and make you want to be her all at the same time. She was whip-smart, loyal and a warrior. Oh yeah, and she was a Black woman encompassing all of these things to boot.

Zoe Saldana taught Hollywood that Black women could help feed their franchises.

Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in “Avatar” / 20th Century Fox

We’re living in a world where nearly every Hollywood studio is looking to flip a sequel and make it a franchise. Look up any major Hollywood actress today, and I’ll wager that she has a franchise or two under her belt. (Emma Stone has “Spiderman,” Jennifer Lawrence has “Hunger Games,” Kiera Knightly has “Pirates of the Caribbean” and even Cate Blanchett has a franchise in “Lord of The Rings.”) But few actresses have managed to take on three of the most popular sci-fi action franchises at the same time.

Currently, Saldana headlines lead acting roles in “Star Trek,” “Avatar” and “Guardians of The Galaxy.” In interviews, she has described how taking on the parts of sci-fi characters whose skin tones were as colorful as a Crayola box helped her to kick down doors for herself in the genre.

“It’s hard when you go and fight for a role because they’re like, ‘I don’t know, man, you mean, it’s like the blue girl from Avatar? I don’t know, I want to go down a different route,'” the Puerto Rican-Dominican actress told The Independent. “I feel like a little bit of an underdog because I live in space, nobody wants me here on earth.”

Saldana’s portrayal of both Gamora in “Guardians” and Neytiri in “Avatar” has spawned a trend that can be seen consistently at any Comic Con event. Legions of women wearing blue and green makeup show up to the once primarily male-dominated events to celebrate Saldana’s characters.

Lupita Nyong’o pried open the sci-fi door and made herself seen.

Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia in “Black Panther” / Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures

I’ll be honest, when Lupita Nyong’o graced the Academy Awards show for the first time four years ago, I feared that she was doomed to be forgotten. After all, Black women who both rock their dark skin and natural hair are a rare thing to be seen in Hollywood. When these rare treasures finally do get a chance to shine, they’re either stereotyped, given smaller supporting roles or faded out completely. Fortunately for us, the Kenyan-Mexicana has managed to carve out a massive place for herself in both the industry and its sci-fi genre.

When her role in “Star Wars” was announced, many fans were less than pleased to find the talented actress’s appearance would be covered up with computer animation. But she made do, and her role as Maz Kanata quickly became a fan favorite. Now Nyong’o is set to star in the 18th film of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as Nakia in “Black Panther,” and in the months before the film, she has inspired young girls and women to embrace their African roots and culture.

Tessa Thompson jumped into sci-fi- and gave it a reboot.

Tessa Thompson as “Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok “/ Marvel Studios

With recent projects such as “Westworld,” “Annihilation,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Infinity Waralready under her belt, it feels like Thompson didn’t get much of a chance to get her feet wet before doing the sci-fi movie deep-dive. And yet, the Panamanian-Mexican has already paved the opportunity for more diverse characters on screen and in the genre — particularly when it comes to the role she took on for Marvel.

Thompson’s part as Valkyrie was an exciting one to see in a box-office film in general, but her role as a queer POC Marvel character was momentous. Her Valkyrie was as complex and multifaceted as onscreen female characters come: she has might, weaknesses, a sense of her sexuality, a whole heck of a lot of bite and can handle her alcohol. Oh, and never once was her character made to fulfill the role of the leading actor’s love-interest.

Afro-Latinas of Hollywood have had a significant part to play in the beloved genre that is speculative fiction. The characters and roles they play continue to widely influence the way women and Afro-Latinas, in particular, see themselves. Like us, these characters and the actresses that portray them are strong, fiercely independent and up for challenges. Here’s hoping production studios keep doing the smart thing and cast more Black women in these gravity-defying roles. Because while the characters these leading ladies of color have played has been significant, there’s no doubting Hollywood needs a whole heck of a lot more.

Nadia Hallgren Is The Afro-Latina Talent Behind Netflix’s ‘Becoming’ Doc

Entertainment

Nadia Hallgren Is The Afro-Latina Talent Behind Netflix’s ‘Becoming’ Doc

nadiahallgren / Instagram

Netflix’s “Becoming” is one documentary everyone is talking about. The documentary, which follows former First Lady Michelle Obama on her 34-city book tour, was directed by Afro-Latina, Puerto Rican cinematographer Nadia Hallgren. It’s the excellence we all love to see.

Nadia Hallgren is the directing powerhouse behind Netflix’s documentary “Becoming.”

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“Becoming” is Hallgren’s first feature-lengthed film and what a way to make a debut. The documentary follows Michelle Obama during her sold-out book tour promoting a book of the same name.

“I think the biggest thing was that it was a tremendous responsibility,” Hallgren told BlackFilm. “This is going to happen one time with Mrs. Obama. I wanted to make the thing and just whatever responsibility that was probably the thing that weighed the most on me.

Higher Ground Productions approached Hallgren to create the documentary.

“I was sitting at my kitchen table the way that I am now, and I got a call from Priya Swaminathan, who is one of the heads of Higher Ground,” Hallgren told Essence Magazine. “And she tells me that Mrs. Obama is getting ready to go out on this book tour and that they were kind of floating the idea of documenting it. Not being certain yet where that footage would live or if it would go anywhere other than her archives, but they were thinking about it. So, after a couple of phone calls, I get an email that says you have an appointment at the Office of Michelle and Barack Obama on this day.”

While filming Obama for the documentary, there was only one rule.

Hallgren says that she was given unprecedented access to the former first lady. She was backstage at every book tour stop, rode with Obama in her motorcades, and spent time at her home. The only thing Obama requested about the footage was that Hallgren not shoot footage of her and her daughters at home. Hallgren agreed because it seemed like a fair request.

However, we did still get footage of Sasha and Malia but one moment really stands out.

During the documentary, Malia comes on to the screen to congratulate her mom on another book tour stop. It was a rare and honest look into Malia and Michelle’s relationship.

“On tours, the same things happen over and over again—you travel, you do the thing, you move on,” Hallgren told Vanity Fair. “So it was pretty much any other shoot, and Mrs. Obama was signing books…And so I’m filming Mrs. Obama, and Malia—I didn’t even see her coming—must’ve walked behind me. She came around to talk to her mom, and just said this amazingly thoughtful reflection that she had in that moment.”

You can watch “Becoming” on Netflix now.

Congratulations, Nadia! What a special moment to be a part of.

READ: Malia And Sasha Obama Speak About Their Mother Michelle Obama’s Success In Netflix Doc ‘Becoming’

There’s A Major Update About The ‘Avatar’ Movie Sequel And It Will Seriously Send You To The Moon

Entertainment

There’s A Major Update About The ‘Avatar’ Movie Sequel And It Will Seriously Send You To The Moon

@officialavatar / Twitter

If you’re a fan of the 2009 film “Avatar” by James Cameron, you’re likely a little over movie updates promising you that it will hit theaters soon.

In December 2009, the film smashed box office records and wrangled in a total of $2.7 billion worldwide. Soon after, Cameron revealed his plans for unleashing several sequels that would surmount the technological groundbreaker, and we were beyond elated. Which brings us to 2020.

For a literal DECADE, we’ve seen the film’s release date pushed further and further away from us and the current COVID-19 pandemic has put the fate of the franchise’s future up in the air once again.

Still, recent updates are giving us hope and some insight into what to expect.

Recently, the official Avatar Twitter account posted a new behind-the-scenes photo of Avatar 2 actors.

The new post features Zoe Saldana alongside Sam Worthington. Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet. If you’re a TRUE fan of Avatar you’ll know that the upcoming sequels will feature an underwater world. The latest reveal from the Twitter account gave us a pretty fun hint at what the work going into that will look like. After all, the film’s performance capture scenes that are taking place underwater are a cinematic first!

“From the set of the sequels: Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Kate Winslet, and Cliff Curtis taking a break from underwater performance capture for a quick photo,” the official Avatar movie account tweeted shared in a tweet from last week. “Fun fact: Much of the performance capture took place in this 900,000-gallon tank, built specifically for the sequels.”

Saldana, Afro-Latina Sci-Fi Queen, will reprise her role as Neytiri in the new series.

She is set to play alongside Worthington who will return as Jake Sully. Actress Kate Winslet joins the cast as the new character Ronal, and Curtis will play a new lead role.

Production for the first Avatar sequel was shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In May, Deadline announced that production was picked back up in New Zealand. The decision was made because the country has new health and safety production protocols concerning COVID-19. “The country’s lockdown has been gradually eased in recent weeks and further significant relaxation is expected next week, including the permission for gatherings of up to 100 people. Domestic travel and office work is also due to resume,” Deadline reported in a piece about the sequel’s relocation. “The country has restricted international travel and required arrivals to quarantine for a period of time so the teams behind major international productions may need to wait a while longer but the path to a return is becoming clearer.”

After Avatar 2 is released on Dec. 17, 2021!!!

And the fun won’t stop there. Three more Avatar movies are expected to debut in 2023, 2025 and 2027. All featuring Saldana.