Puerto Rican-American actress Rosie Perez burst onto the Hollywood scene thanks to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing at a time when Tinsel Town wasn’t necessarily rich with opportunities for people of color. And some decades later, Perez, who identifies as Afro-Latino, still isn’t shy when it comes to voicing her concern about the pervasive racism in Hollywood.
“I think it’s very dangerous—the separation of color within the Latin community,” Perez told ESSENCE last Saturday while receiving Hispanicize’s Latinavator Award at The InterContinental in Los Angeles. “ People who are dark skin have to pronounce themselves as Afro-Latinos. The Latinos that are not dark-skinned don’t call themselves White Latinos or Caucasian Latinos. I know that might sound controversial, [but] I think it’s important that we unify.”
“That said: there is a disparity in regards to seeing brown, dark brown and Black-skinned colored Latinas, Latinos, LatinX—whatever—it hasn’t changed that much,” she added.
“What’s fantastic to me,” added Perez, “is that the new Latinx generation they do not care [about these labels]. And they are voicing their opinions and I think that’s fantastic.”
Perez said that even in studies meant to examine the disparities for people of color in Hollywood, there are huge missteps. She referenced one such mistake made by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California where they highlighted that only 3% of Latinos in Hollywood get the leading roles.
“They had said that only 3% of Latinos in Hollywood get the lead roles and they left out Zoe Saldana,” stated a perturbed Perez. “That was such an important misstep on their part and you ask yourself why? Whether it was conscious or subconscious it was an omission that spoke volumes. They don’t include us as part of the conversation as winning and that’s an issue. I think as a community we need to look within ourselves and fix that problem before we start pointing fingers at everyone else.”
Perez will next be seen in The Last Thing He Wanted, opposite Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck for Netflix and Birds of Prey, opposite Margot Robbie. She’ll also be returning to television with a starring role in HBO Max’s thriller drama series The Flight Attendant. Perez will star opposite Kaley Cuoco, who will also produce.