Zoe Saldana rose to the A-list after her compelling turns as the communications officer Nyota Uhura in Star Trek, filmmaker J.J. Abrams’s space adventure about a multicultural crew spreading pluralism throughout the galaxy, and that of Neytiri in Avatar, a sci-fi epic about environmental preservation in the face of corporate greed. She is also a Hispanic woman (birth name: Zoe Yadira Saldaña Nazario) of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, with African and Haitian roots.
All of these credits and traits seem to be at odds with President-elect Donald Trump, an orange-hued billionaire who spent the lion’s share of his campaign alienating minority groups, appointed a climate change denier as head of the EPA, installed a former Exxon executive as Secretary of State, and has expressed particular disdain towards the Hispanic immigrant community.
And yet, Saldana—while not a Trump supporter herself—has seemingly taken it upon herself to defend the indefensible, placing some of the blame for Trump’s shock election victory on Tinseltown for bullying the world’s premier bully.
“We got cocky and became arrogant and we also became bullies,” Saldana told AFP of Trump, who’s mocked a disabled New York Times reporter, called Megyn Kelly a “bimbo,” accused Ted Cruz’s father of assassinating JFK, and has himself been accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women.
“We were trying to single out a man for all these things he was doing wrong,” she continued, “and that created empathy in a big group of people in America that felt bad for him and that are believing in his promises.”
There is this strange argument, one cooked up by the Trump campaign and propagated by the conservative media apparatus, that Hillary Clinton (and by extension her Hollywood surrogates) ran an “ugly” campaign against Trump. The reality, of course, is that virtually all of Clinton’s attack ads against Trump consisted of montages of Trump saying heinous things. Accusing someone of running an ugly campaign for merely highlighting the sexist, bigoted, hateful things her opponent’s said is textbook gaslighting.
Saldana is no stranger to controversy. The 38-year-old actress, who is currently starring in the Ben Affleck action-thriller Live By Night, came under fire last year for darkening her skin and donning facial prosthetics to play the iconic singer Nina Simone in the biopic Nina. Saldana and the filmmakers passionately defended the head-scratching decision, claiming that other actors who more closely resembled Nina had turned the project down, while large segments of the media and moviegoing public viewed it as another example of Hollywood’s racist aversion to dark-skinned black actors.
“The very fact that there’s such a shallow pool of actors who look like Simone is not a non-racist excuse, but a sign of racism itself—the same racism that plagued Nina Simone,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Being conscious of that racism means facing the possibility of Simone’s story never being told. That is not the tragedy. The tragedy is that we live in a world that is not ready for that story to be told. The release of Nina does not challenge this fact. It reifies it.”
Saldana’s latest film, Live By Night, contains a sequence where Ben Affleck’s bootlegger-gangster squares off against the Ku Klux Klan—a white supremacist organization that endorsed Donald Trump’s presidency. The actress explained how if we all work together, we won’t regress culturally.
“I’m learning from [the Trump win] with a lot of humility,” she told AFP. “If we have people continue to be strong and educate ourselves and stand by equal rights and treat everyone with respect, we don’t go back to those times.”
Easier said than done.