HuffPo Latino Voices: Why This “Colombiana” Is Going to Watch Colombiana

National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” invited me to appear on the “Beauty Shop” which I blog about in “TWLC’s Viviana Hurtado on NPR’s “Tell More More” with Michel Martin.”  Like “Barber Shop,” the end-of-the-show segment is modeled after the conversations exchanged in spaces where friends gather and talk about hot topics in a real, break-it-down way.  This is what people out in America, as opposed to Washington, do on a daily basis–figure out how politics and policies that are/not working impact their community made up of family and neighbors.

The vibrant, relevant, edgy, diverse conservation with smart, bold women Jessica Coen, Editor-in-Chief of Jezebel, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and University of Georgia professor Cynthia Tucker, and Danielle Belton, founder of the politics and pop culture blog The Black Snob inspired this post on Zoe Saldana’s role in the movie “Colombiana” in the context of the opportunities for women, especially actors of color, in Hollywood and the media.

As it appears in the Huffington Post Latino Voices:

Why This “Colombiana” Is Going to Watch Colombiana

“Never forget where you came from” repeats throughout the trailer of Colombiana, the action-packed movie where hero Cataleya — played by Zoe Saldana — avenges her parents’ murder.

Women are equal parts seething at one more hyper-sexualized and violent Hollywood exploitation of our gender and cheering that Cataleya rocks action scenes in a catsuit.

To protest a passé representation of the Andean nation that reinforces stereotypes of drugs and Pablo Escobar-era violence, the college student and young professional network PorColombia re-made the film’s poster, replacing the gun the fierce main character caresses with flowers, and changing the subtitle “Vengeance is Beautiful” to “Colombia is Beautiful.”

“Colombiana” New Film Poster Courtesy: PorColombia

Still, I’m dying to see it.

Cataleya has seduced me — a “Yuban” Colombiana — 100 percent Colombian bean. Made in the U.S.A.

The thugs who killed Cataleya’s parents underestimate her because “she’s just a girl.” The character waiting to melt a hardened heart is not female, but Saldana’s love interest played by hunk Michael Vartan from the TV show Alias.  “I’m doing this my way!”  Cataleya bellows while defying S.W.A.T. teams, karate-chopping, and loading guns.

She is kicking some serious cola.

But is Cataleya a symbol of independence and strength?  Or is she just one more example of Hollywood reducing Latinas to exotic stereotypes à la fruit basket crowned Carmen Miranda and “cuchi-cuchi” Charo, or that of submissive maid–a role Mexican-American actor Lupe Ontiveros has played up to 300 times?

Given these options, maybe it’s better to be invisible as we are in most national nightly newscasts or mainstream magazines rather than be represented in static caricatures?  If Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft or Evelyn Salt does not speak for all white women, why would Zoe as Cataleya embody every Hispanic woman on the planet?

Cataleya doesn’t.  But the media beams powerful images.

Actors of color, especially Latinas, need to fill a diversity of roles, such as Sara Ramírez’s vulnerable Dr. Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy, Eva Longoria’s capricious Gabrielle Solís on Desperate Housewives, or Naya Rivera’s mean girl Santana Lopez on Glee.  These women nail the parts of a multi-faceted doctor, housewife, or cheerleader.  That the actresses and characters are Hispanic is a “plus one” that sends a strong message to American society that we are an integral part of this country.  Crucially, it also communicates to Latinitas that you, too, can aspire beyond the barrio and be a ________.  I will let them fill in the blank.

Does adding an asesina/avenger to the mix activate Wonder Twin powers?  Does it represent a form of a more complex role for Latinas?


Zoe Saldana in Colombian
Courtesy: Colombian

Is Cataleya going to improve the lives of Hispanic women, struggling through (double dip?) recession, raising children sometimes alone, equally defying low cultural and societal expectations, as well as balancing school, work, and/or relationships?


But Saldana acting in “another” type of role–as a tough action heroine–can open up other options, as it did for Angelina Jolie who played Mariane Pearl, the widow of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in A Mighty Heart after Lara Croft: Tomb Raider–the ensuing exposure helping Jolie secure the position and deserved praise as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Casting” women–in film and real life–in multi-dimensional roles does not only have the power to influence and eventually change debates on gender roles.  A more accurate representation in the media also synchs better with reality since we are career women, moms, spouses, sisters, B-F-Fs, students, often times all at once.

We might not know true equality the day we see Colombiana Sofía Vergara playing a Tina-Fey-Liz-Lemon character on 30 Rock in a loose-fitting turtleneck.  But it will be a good start.


  1. says

    Yesterday I read the “PorColumbia” article and I understand the points they made, but I don’t agree with them.

    I saw Columbiana, with my teen/young adult kids (2 male,1 female), the day it opened. We support Latino actors and chose films that we believe are non-stereotypical.
    All of us thought Columbian was a good action/thriller movie and a good vehicle for the newer actors involved, especially the actor who played young Cataleya. Saldana, as an actor, has chosen non-stereotypical roles and that’s a great thing.
    What I find problematic is when non-Latino actors play Latino roles, such as in the new release, Seven Days in Utopia, where Robert Duvall plays a main character who is based on a Latino pro golfer.

  2. says

    I love Zoe Saldana and want to support a Latina, especially a Dominican as they aren’t many in Hollywood, just like Colombianas. I don’t personally follow reviews and all the controversy. I see the movie for myself and then judge. As Mona said above, it’s all about supporting Latino actors.

  3. says

    I haven’t seen any commercials for this yet but plan to see it. Agree with comments above; how often do we see latinos in major roles? Not too much. I hope it’s a good movie and hopefully I can catch it in the theater.

  4. says

    I definitely have mixed feelings on this one and I think you do a great job explaining both sides of the story. While Saldana is portrayed in a strong role (awesome), she is also objectified/sexualized and again…we are uplifting stereotypes about Colombia when there are many more stories about this country to be told. Will anyone outside of the Latino community hear these others stories?? Not when we’re only producing drug-related films about the region. I’m a fan of Sadana though and I definitely support the appearance of strong female characters in films…especially women of color! ;)

  5. says

    The truth is that I will go see any movie, or watch any TV show, that has to do with Latinos, and specifically Cuba. I am curious, I want to see…Stereotype or not. I have given up on TV shows because of bad writing and stereotypes, but I give them a shot.

    I hear what the protesters are saying. I do.

  6. says

    I’m not sure this film will do anything for the ways Latinas are viewed, but I want to see it. I like Zoe, and it’s nice to see her in a leading role.

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