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08/01/2017 10:14 am ET

Selenis Leyva On The First Time She Felt Represented By A TV Character

The "OITNB" star also spoke about what "true diversity" means.

Selenis Leyva still remembers the first time she felt represented on television.  

As part of #FirstTimeISawMe, Netflix’s new campaign for representation in entertainment, the “Orange is the New Black” star pinpointed the exact series and actress that first gave her hope for her own dreams.

For Leyva, who portrays Gloria Mendoza in “OITNB,” it was watching an Afro-Latina actress star in the ’90s cop drama “New York Undercover” that changed what she felt was possible. 

“The first time I saw myself was ‘New York Undercover.’ The actress Lauren Velez,” Leyva said in the video, shared exclusively with HuffPost on Monday. “I was like, ’Holy crap! She looks like me.’ I never thought that could exist. There was hope.”

“On TV you need to see yourself, you need to be able to relate to something. You need to have hope,” she added.

In the video, Leyva also explained that “true diversity” involved showcasing not just different races but also different ages, body sizes, sexual orientations and life experiences. 

“Diversity doesn’t mean you cast one person,” Leyva said. “You have to tell more stories about different types of people. We need more [diverse] people, definitely. Not only in front of the camera, we need them behind the camera: writers, directors, producers, studio heads.”

Watch Leyva discuss why representation matters in the video above. 

HuffPost

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