COOL INTERVIEW WITH ZOE SALDANA & AMANDA DE CADENET

Is Zoe Saldana Black? 100,000 Google Questions About Her Ethnicity, Nationality, Parents Race & Family Heritage

IS SHE BLACK, INDIAN, LATINA? Zoe Saldana's ethnicity and heritage seem hard to place for many fans who Google her — and that has caused trouble in her role in the new Nina Simone biopic. By Ben Arogundade.

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SHE IS HOLLYWOOD'S MOST ethnically mysterious movie star, able to morph between Mediterranean-style beauty to a full-blown alien, as she appeared in the movie, Avatar. So, is Zoe Yadira Saldana black, Indian, Latina or Other? 100,000 fans are not sure. That is the approximate global number who Google a range of questions about the 37 year old actress's ethnicity, nationality, parents race and family heritage, each year.

SALDANA'S ETHNICITY & PARENTS HERITAGE
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 BEAUTY
Like fellow film celebrity Rosario Dawson, Saldana’s ethnicity 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 movie, 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.’”

BIOGRAPHY OF BLACK
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 has also been criticised for being cast in the role of Nina Simone in the upcoming biopic about the singer, by those, including members of Simone's estate, who thought that an actress of a different ethnicity should have been cast. “Zoe is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent — Nina is of African American descent,” said Jennifer Peros, senior news editor at Entertainment Tonight. The anger intensified when it was discovered that Saldana plays the role of Simone in “blackface”, with darkened make-up, and also with a prothetic nose, so that she bears a closer resemblance to the singer.

ZOE SALDANA ETHNICITY & NATIONALITY CONTROVERSY
The controversy illustrates the double standards that exist in Hollywood between its black and white stars. Why does a black actor need to come from the same country as the person she is portraying in a film? Further, why does that actor need to physically resemble that person? These are rules that do not seem to apply to white actors in Hollywood. A recent example is the actor Michael Fassbender, who plays Apple founder Steve Jobs in the Academy-Award nominated biopic. Not only is Fassbender Irish-German, rather than American, he also bears no physical resemblance to Jobs — and yet he drew little criticism for these facts, while Saldana draws heat, mainly from the black community, for doing exactly the same thing. The question here is, why are blacks harder on themselves than they are on other ethnicities within Hollywood?

Regardless of the controversy, Saldana remains defiant. “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.”

Black Beauty by Ben Arogundade is out now.

MYSTERIOUS ETHNICITY: 'Avatar' and 'Star Trek' actress Zoe Saldana's ethnicity and heritage intrigues fans around the world. 100,000 of them, curious about her race, nationality and her parents ethnic background, turn to Google for answers.

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Beauty History & Culture by Ben Arogundade, Author of 'Black Beauty'.

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*ZOE SALDANA'S ETHNICITY & HERITAGE ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH

1,000

The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Zoe Saldana black?” each month.

5,400

The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Zoe Saldana ethnicity” each month.

*All figures for “Zoe Saldana's Ethnicity & Heritage According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.

FROM CHILD TO STAR: Top: Zoe Saldana as a child. Her mixed heritage gives her hair its naturally fine texture. Saldana and her mother, Asalia - Zoe's parents are of mixed ethnicity and nationality. Her mother is Puerto Rican, while her late father, Aridio was from the Dominican Republic. Above: Zoe Saldana's multi-ethnic beauty graces the covers of the November 2014 edition of 'Elle', and the July/August 2011 edition of 'Harper's Bazaar' Russia.

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