"Never forget where you came from" repeats throughout the trailer of Colombiana, the action-packed movie where hero Cataleya -- played by Zoe Saldana -- avenges her parents' murder.
Women are equal parts seething at one more hyper-sexualized and violent Hollywood exploitation of our gender and cheering that Cataleya rocks action scenes in a catsuit.
To protest a passé representation of the Andean nation that reinforces stereotypes of drugs and Pablo Escobar-era violence, the college student and young professional network PorColombia re-made the film's poster, replacing the gun the fierce main character caresses with flowers, and changing the subtitle "Vengeance is Beautiful" to "Colombia is Beautiful."
Still, I'm dying to see it.
Cataleya has seduced me -- a "Yuban" Colombiana -- 100 percent Colombian bean. Made in the U.S.A.
The thugs who killed Cataleya's parents underestimate her because "she's just a girl." The character waiting to melt a hardened heart is not female, but Saldana's love interest played by hunk Michael Vartan from the TV show Alias. "I'm doing this my way!" Cataleya bellows while defying S.W.A.T. teams, karate-chopping, and loading guns.
She is kicking some serious cola.
But is Cataleya a symbol of independence and strength? Or is she just one more example of Hollywood reducing Latinas to exotic stereotypes à la fruit basket crowned Carmen Miranda and "cuchi-cuchi" Charo, or that of submissive maid -- a role Mexican-American actor Lupe Ontiveros has played up to 300 times?
Given these options, maybe it's better to be invisible as we are in most national nightly newscasts or mainstream magazines rather than be represented in static caricatures? If Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft or Evelyn Salt does not speak for all white women, why would Zoe as Cataleya embody every Hispanic woman on the planet?
Cataleya doesn't. But the media beams powerful images.
Actors of color, especially Latinas, need to fill a diversity of roles, such as Sara Ramírez's vulnerable Dr. Callie Torres on Grey's Anatomy, Eva Longoria's capricious Gabrielle Solís on Desperate Housewives, or Naya Rivera's mean girl Santana Lopez on Glee. These women nail the parts of a multi-faceted doctor, housewife, or cheerleader. That the actresses and characters are Hispanic is a "plus one" that sends a strong message to American society that we are an integral part of this country. Crucially, it also communicates to Latinitas that you, too, can aspire beyond the barrio and be a ________. I will let them fill in the blank.
Does adding an asesina/avenger to the mix activate Wonder Twin powers? Does it represent a form of a more complex role for Latinas?
Is Cataleya going to improve the lives of Hispanic women, struggling through (double dip?) recession, raising children sometimes alone, equally defying low cultural and societal expectations, as well as balancing school, work, and/or relationships?
But Saldana acting in "another" type of role -- as a tough action heroine -- can open up other options, as it did for Angelina Jolie who played Mariane Pearl, the widow of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in A Mighty Heart after Lara Croft: Tomb Raider -- the ensuing exposure helping Jolie secure the position and deserved praise as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
"Casting" women -- in film and real life -- in multi-dimensional roles does not only have the power to influence and eventually change debates on gender roles. A more accurate representation in the media also synchs better with reality since we are career women, moms, spouses, sisters, B-F-Fs, students, often times all at once.
We might not know true equality the day we see Colombiana Sofía Vergara playing a Tina-Fey-Liz-Lemon character on 30 Rock in a loose-fitting turtleneck. But it will be a good start.