WATCH: Interview - Film Star Zoe Saldana Talks About Her Life And Background
ARTICLES AND BOOKS BY WRITER BEN AROGUNDADE
What Is Zoe Saldana's Background? Black, Indian, Latina? Meet Hollywood's Most Ethnically Mysterious Movie Star
MYSTERIOUS ETHNICITY: Avatar and Star Trek star Zoe Saldana's genealogy and ethnicity intrigues online fans around the world. Thousands of them - curious about the film star's race, nationality and her parents ethnic background - turn to Google with questions about her heritage.
SHE COULD BE BLACK, INDIAN, ARAB OR LATINA. It is difficult to place the source of Avatar and Star Trek actress Zoe Saldana's ethnicity and striking beauty — but that is exactly her strength. By Ben Arogundade.
IS AMERICAN ACTRESS Zoe Yadira Saldana black? 800 people are not sure. That is the approximate global number who Google this question each and every month about the 35 year old actress and star of the films Avatar and Star Trek. In fact, the New Jersey-born celebrity's parents are from diverse racial backgrounds. Her mother Asalia Nazario's nationality is Puerto Rican, while her late father, Aridio Saldana, was from the Dominican Republic. He died in a car accident when Zoe was nine years old, after which the family relocated to the Dominican Republic.
MYSTERIOUS ETHNICITY Like fellow film celebrity Rosario Dawson, Saldana’s beauty intrigues in its ambiguity. She could pass for black, biracial, Brazilian, Indian, Pakistani, Persian or Latina. Her ethnicity has a rich history. The Dominican Republic, her father’s birthplace, is an island located in the Caribbean Sea, off the northern coast of Venezuela. Today the majority of its population are of African ancestry, but also present are Caribs — the traditional race of native Indians after whom the Caribbean was named, plus a large multi-ethnic population, as well as a minority of European nationalities descended from British, French and Irish colonists.
BACKGROUND NATIONALITY Saldana’s mother’s birthplace, Puerto Rico, is an archipelago in the northeast of the Caribbean. Most of the population, who commonly refer to themselves as “boricuas”, are descendants of Taíno Indians, Africans, Europeans, or a combination of these groups. Saldana also shares this side of her ethnic ancestry with one of Rosario Dawson's parents — her mother Isabel is part-Puerto Rican. It is this multi-ethnicity which accounts for both actresses light skin-tone and naturally straight hair.
HOLLYWOOD AND RACE With Saldana's multi-ethnic background it perhaps seems fitting then that Hollywood's most aesthetically mysterious actress was cast in the ethnically otherworldly role of Neytiri in James Cameron's epic, Avatar. But although Saldana's mixed heritage allows her to cross over into roles devised for both black and white actresses, she admits that she still comes up against narrow racial conventions when casting in Hollywood. “When they say, ‘We want to go white,’ they have a very smooth way of saying it, and the recent one is the word ‘traditional’,” she told Nylon magazine. “‘Oh, you know, you’re just not what we were looking for, your skin is a little darker.’”
But despite all the ambiguities about Saldana's ethnicity, she self-identifies as black rather than Latino — a fact which some sections of the latter community find hard to accept. She was also criticised recently for being cast in the role of Nina Simone in the upcoming biopic about the singer, by those who thought an African American actress should have been cast. “It doesn't matter how much backlash I will get it,” she responded. “I will honor and respect my black community because that's who I am.”
BACKGROUND IN BEAUTY: Top; Film star Zoe Saldana's parents are of mixed ethnicity and nationality. Her mother Asalia, (left), is Puerto Rican, while her late father, Aridio was from the Dominican Republic. Middle; Saldana poses for the June 2013 edition of Allure magazine. Above; Saldana in full make-up as Neytiri in the film Avatar.
Below left; Zoe Saldana as a child. Her mixed ancestry gives her hair its fine texture. Right; Like Zoe Saldana, the aesthetic ambiguity of fellow film star Rosario Dawson's ancestry, nationality and parents ethnic background fascinates fans across the world.
*ZOE SALDANA'S ETHNICITY ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Zoe Saldana black?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Zoe Saldana ethnicity” each month.
*All figures for “Zoe Saldana's Ethnicity According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.