The Meteoric Rise of Zoe Saldana

One of the most frequent, and tragic, storylines among actors and musicians is that of the one-hit wonder. An aspiring actor or singer will get a big break with a starring role and wow the world, only to find that success is difficult to sustain. Eventually these people fade from memory and end up as a footnote in media history, if they are even remembered at all. Not Zoe Saldana!

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock

There are artists who seemingly come out of nowhere exhibiting great talent and continue to impress with each new role they land. Zoe Saldana is one of the few to have managed a meteoric rise and parlayed that into a successful career in Hollywood. One look into Saldana’s past shines a light on an individual with a passion for the performing arts and focused guidance from parents who encouraged her to explore those interests.

For all the success and high profile roles during her impressive career, Saldana has found that the media often concentrates more on her personal life than her successes on screen or her passions as an individual. The most common question she faces, and one that she has expressed a lack of patience with time and again, is the question of her ethnicity.

In a recent interview with BET. com, Saldana was quoted as saying the following regarding her ethnicity:

“I find it uncomfortable to have to speak about my identity all of the time, when in reality it’s not something that drives me or gets me up out of bed every day. I didn’t grow up in a household where I was categorized by my mother. I was just Zoe and I could have been anything that I ever wanted to be…and every human being is the same as you. So to all of a sudden leave your household and have people constantly ask you, ‘What are you?’, does try your patience!”

Zoe Saldana and an array of artists including Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, James Caan, Noah Emmerich & director Guillaume Canet at the gala premiere of "Blood Ties" at the 66th Festival de Cannes.

CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 20, 2013: Zoe Saldana (third from left in front row) and an array of artists including Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, James Caan, Noah Emmerich & director Guillaume Canet at the gala premiere of “Blood Ties” at the 66th Festival de Cannes. Photo: Jaguar PS

Even though these comments of her are public knowledge, it is worth noting that Saldana is not ashamed of her heritage. In reality, she is very proud of her background and that of her parents. Saldana, although born in the United States, has a rich Spanish Creole and Latin background inherited from and instilled in her by her parents.

Her late father, Aridio Saldana, was born in the Dominican Republic while her mother Asalia Nazario was born in Puerto Rico.

The Dominican Republic has one of the richest Creole heritages in the Western world and shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. It is the second largest nation in the Caribbean in terms of land and population (behind Cuba) and thus has one of the largest Creole cultures in the region. The Dominican Republic’s Creole culture was crafted through years of conquest and European interaction. The native Taino culture mixed over centuries with those of Spanish and French colonists as well as the African slaves brought to the island by those conquering powers.

Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons arrive at "The Words" Premiere at ArcLight Cinemas

(From left to right) Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons arrive at “The Words” Premiere at ArcLight Cinemas on September 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Helga Esteb

Zoe’s parents eventually made their way to the United States, where Zoe was born on 19 June 1978 in Passaic, New Jersey. However, her childhood would be forever scarred by the loss of her father at the age of nine. Aridio Saldana died as the result of a car crash; and out of that tragedy came the opportunity to further embrace her heritage.

Zoe and her mother moved to the Dominican Republic shortly after her father’s passing, a transition that was no doubt easy for Saldana as her parents raised her to be f luent in Spanish and English. It was here, in her father’s homeland, that Saldana would f ind her passion and begin the path to a successful career on stage and screen.

As a young teen, Zoe enrolled in the Espacio de Danza Academy in the Dominican Republic where she studied jazz, ballet, and modern Latin dance. It was this time spent learning those uniquely Creole cultural aspects that prepared Saldana for a future in Hollywood. After her sophomore year of high school, Zoe and her mother returned to the United States and took up residence in Queens, New York.

Zoe began performing with the FACES theater group in Brooklyn in 1995, specializing in offering positive messages for youth through plays that dealt with common issues such as substance abuse or sexuality in youth. At the same time Zoe was also working with the New York Youth Theater where she appeared in performances such as, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Her time on stage and tremendous experience as a dancer eventually led to her big break.

Zoe debuted on the big screen in the 2000 film Center Stage; a film that featured Saldana in the starring role as a strong, confident ballet dancer. She would go on to quickly land big roles in hit movies such as Drumline and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but it was in 2009 that her career shot to new heights and she became a true leading lady in Hollywood.

Chris Pine, Alice Eve, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana arriving for the UK premiere of 'Star Trek Into Darkness' at The Empire Cinema, London.

(From left to right) Chris Pine, Alice Eve, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana arriving for the UK premiere of ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ at The Empire Cinema, London. Photo: Featureflash

First, Zoe starred as Lt. Uhura in the scifi reboot Star Trek. The movie was a smash hit, but it wasn’t the biggest film she would appear in that year.

Saldana later starred as Neytiri, the Na’vi chief’s daughter, in the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar. Her success in these roles established her as one of the best. Saldana recently reprised her role as Lt. Uhura in the sequel to the Star Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness. The movie was released in May 2013 and met with great success at the box office. It is also rumored that Saldana will be reprising her role as Neytiri in 2015 when Cameron expects to release Avatar 2.

Zoe Saldana’s life and career, though most might not see it looking at her, has been shaped by her Creole heritage. It was the devotion and support of her parents that instilled in her the strength to pursue her love of dance and performing arts. Her time spent living in her father’s native Dominican Republic helped bring out her love of performing arts and shaped the path of her successful career on stage and screen.