Recently, well-known actress Zoë Saldana, appeared on PBS’ long-running The Tavis Smiley Show.
The show is featured both on PBS and on NPR and features various famous entertainers, and other people-of-note, sharing poignant conversation about their previous roles, their inspirations or discoveries and, often, some darker parts of their personal life.
Appearing to promote her newest film, Infinitely Polar Bear, the conversation circled mostly around the film’s plot, the fact that it focused particularly on a interracial couple in the 1970s, and the sometimes uncomfortable truths surrounding bipolar disorder. This made sense, but even Smiley made short work of mentioning that serious roles like this are not typically associated with Saldana, who has recently appeared–almost exclusively–in, “all these various sci-fi projects that [she had] done.”
More specifically, while Saldana’s filmography dates back as far as 1999, it wasn’t until nearly ten years later that she would begin becoming a recognized name, thanks to her roles in several geek-inclined franchises beginning in 2009.
Bringing new life to the role of Starfleet officer Nyota Uhura in both the first, second and recently announced third Star Trek films, and starring as the Na’vi, Neytiri, in the original Avatar and its purported three upcoming sequels, it’d be an understatement to say that Saldana has cemented herself as a powerful leading lady in the geek film universe. This, of course, not even taking into account her bang-up job as the vicious, ass-kicking Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy and it’s recently announced sequel as well.
While Saldana managed to diligently side-step discussing her recent trip into sci-fi films for the majority of the interview, when the conversation finally reached a point where discussing it was unavoidable, a surprising thing happened. Listen to the clip from the interview below.
There is a lot that happens in less than two-minutes here, and I think a good portion of it is worth noting.
Now, I’ll preface this by saying that my opinions on Saldana’s points, and Smiley’s less-than defensible response, have nothing to do with the current plight being forced upon female geeks across the internet. In my opinion, it would be only a further disservice to geeks, male or female, as a whole, to allow this kind of stuff to pass under the bridge, unnoticed.
It is entirely fair to cringe when Saldana reveals that she was once told by a produced that she was hired merely, “to look sexy with a gun in [her] underwear.” You don’t need me to explain that in the entertainment industry sex sells, but that doesn’t excuse a person being told that their contribution to a film is merely to look sexy with a gun, undressed.
Of course, Saldana artfully refrains from discussing which film this is in relation to, but it doesn’t take a lot of expert Googling to hazard a semi-certain guess:
However, it is the great leap that Saldana takes after sharing her story that worries me a little bit.
“I joke about this with…some of my female colleagues,” she says, “that it almost feels as if like the writers that are getting their projects made are mainly geeks…that had posters of their fantasy girls in their room and saying, “One day when I’m a writer, I’m going to write great stories” and they do.”
“They write beautiful women in it, but they’re void of substance,” she continued. “You just have to get–you have to invest a little more time in that female character and I just always encourage writers when I’m working with them to just dig deeper for women.”
Even worse was what the two may have mistook as harmless banter to transition from this, back to her plugging her newest film.
“I’m laughing at that analogy,” says Smiley, continuing, “I don’t think geeks want substance. I think they just want…”
“Fantasy.” Saldana interrupts.
“Exactly. They got the substance. That’s why they’re geeks,” Smiley continues, while the two then share another laugh and move on.