Published on August 16th, 2014 | by Melody Cade0
Zoe Saldaña – A Beautiful Brand
By Melody Cade
(For the purposes of the site, we usually don’t talk about actors, but Zoe Saldaña is breaking molds, so I’ll break my rule.)
My first memory of seeing Zoe Saldaña was in the film, Drumline. I’ve been taken with her since the beginning of her career. I actually recall saying the words, “I like that actress”. My friend responded with, “Why? Is it because you two wear the same size?”. My answer, “Maybe?!”. What honestly struck me? I think it was her brand.
There was no Zoe Saldaña before Zoe Saldaña. She was new. She was a black latina ballerina, who retained her feminine side while being a tomboy. Since her introduction Zoe has been delivering on perceptions and expectations she’s built her brand on. Zoe has navigated and created a beautiful career. Why do I like her today? The answer is this woman is incredibly smart. Zoe has made herself the first black and the first latina female action star and has a giant sci-fi following. She can pick a franchise like nobody’s business. She is one of very few actresses of color who has a solid brand, Sofia Vergara being one and Kerry Washington being another. (I’ll come back to this later)
Her career got it’s footing by her appearing in teen friendly films, the first being Center Stage, a dance film. This was great for her, she’s a dancer. She then moved into ‘Urban’ films. Urban being black. This is where things get interesting. Most actors of color get stuck in this genre, especially if we are talking about ten years ago. Zoe was able to segway into action and indies and drama. Everything she has been in has made money, I checked. The keys to her success are her choices. The choice of her roles, the choice of her team and how she chooses to carry herself in the world. (She doesn’t fall victim to Hollywood craziness) What Zoe says, and what she doesn’t say, the persona she embraces and what she rejects, tell her real world audience a story. I think the public’s willingness to see her in any genre and play any nationality is in direct response to this. She tells us who she is, straight forward, and we believe her. We trust her.
Sofia Vergara is the only other latina actress with a brand this strong in the U.S. She is the highest paid actress in a sitcom currently, and produces for television. Kerry Washington, another strong brand, has just started to produce. But, her dramatic film choices usually end up going to The Oscars. I can imagine, sometime in the future, Kerry producing the film that wins her that award. Some may point out Eva Longoria’s success as an actor and producer. To that I say, true, she is successful. But I don’t know her brand. A brand is a product distinction. When one says the name Zoe Saldaña, or Sofia Vergara, or Kerry Washington there is no question of what they are bringing to the table. Building a brand takes planning, time and is difficult to do.
A part of me gets frustrated when people don’t recognize what Zoe has done. While listening to NPR, a host posed the question, “Is Scarlett Johansson the next Angelina Jolie? Is she the next female action star who carries a movie and takes on dramatic roles?” The answer is “No.” Zoe Saldaña was four years ago. Check out Columbiana.
The rising tide of actresses of color taking a more action oriented approach to their career and opportunities beyond acting is very exciting. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one noticing this change. I catch myself looking around the room to see if anyone else is fist pumping the fact that an Afro-Latina action star producer might venture into directing. Nope? Just me? O.k.
I don’t think anyone is asking, “Who is the next Zoe Saldaña?” and they should be. She is a friend in my head, whether it be by design of her brand or by chance. I wish her all the best and can’t wait to see what she does next.