ArtCultureFilm / TV

Las Nuevas Leyendas: Afro-Latinx Actors On The Path To Becoming Hollywood Icons

April 25, 2022

As invaluable as their contributions in Hollywood have been, it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint the first Afro-Latinx film or television star in the U.S. That’s because, for so long, as People En Espanol noted, “stereotypes surrounding Latinidad have largely erased the experiences of millions of Latinos who have African roots.” In other words, with so many people associating Latinidad with a specific aesthetic, actors and entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Antonio Juan Fargas (aka Huggy Bear), and Lola Falana were simply seen as Black; while others like Juano Hernández, Rosie Perez or Wilson Cruz were automatically “recognized” as Hispanic.

In 2014, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that “one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos self-identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America.” It was the first time any survey had offered the option of acknowledging both African and Latin American heritage. Around the same time, actors like Tatyana Ali, Zoe Saldana, and Laz Alonzo started being asked about and being very vocal about their dual heritage. The emergence of the term “Afro-Latinx” allowed even more creatives in front of and behind the camera to become trailblazers for Afro-Latinidad in Hollywood, incorporating their full heritage into their work.

Here are a few future Afro-Latinx Hollywood legends you should get familiar with.

Jharrel Jerome (Dominican)

At the tender age of 21, Jharrel became the first Afro-Latino actor to win an Emmy when he took home the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his portrayal of Korey Wise in When They See Us. He was also the youngest actor to win in that category. And that wasn’t even his first role in a critically acclaimed, award-winning production. He made his feature film debut in Moonlight, winning a bevy of awards for that performance as well.

Yaya DaCosta (Brazilian)

One of the most successful alumnae from America’s Next Top Model, Yaya has paid her dues as an actress, beginning on All My Children in 2008 and graduating to hit shows like Ugly Betty and Chicago Med. In 2021, she left the NBC medical drama to lead the multi-talented cast of Fox’s Our Kind Of People as the driven main character, Angela Vaughn.

Tristan Wilds (Dominican)

Since capturing our hearts as a teenage heartthrob in The Secret Life of Bees and The Wire, Tristan Wilds has proven and established himself as both an award-winning actor and a musician. But he has quietly also been building an impressive filmography as a producer and director, including his 2021 film Wouldn’t Be Nuthin’

MJ Rodriguez (Puerto Rican)

Best known for the role of Blanca Evangelista on the critically acclaimed fan-favorite Pose, MJ has already shattered ceilings and barriers as the first trans woman to be nominated for an Emmy. While she didn’t take home the 2021 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama that same year.

Colman Domingo (Guatemalan-Belizean)

While you may not have paid attention to him until season 2 of Euphoria, Colman’s been around for a minute. And his resume includes some of the best and most buzzworthy titles of the last decade – from ZOLA to Candyman to Fear The Walking Dead to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He has an equally impressive and extensive theater resume. And now that he’s captured mainstream attention, we’re sure he’s destined for more great performances.

Julissa Calderon (Dominican)

It’s gotta be an amazing feeling when an actress can step into her career in a role that makes a statement. After a few supporting and extra roles, the character that has brought Julissa into our hearts is Yessika Castillo, an Afro-Latina lesbian challenging colorism, stereotypes of Latinidad, gentrification, and racism every chance she gets. Julissa is also the co-host of Go Off With Jess & Julissa alongside fellow breakout Netflix star Jessica Marie Garcia from the show On My Block.

Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Dominican)

You may not realize it, but Jorge has been in quite a few of your favorite action movies in the last few years, from the three most recent Spider-Man movies to Bumblebee. But what’s most impressive about his resume is his range: in addition to the summer blockbusters, he’s appeared in the direct-to-Hulu teen drama Love, Simon, the independent basketball coming of age story Boogie, and the highly-praised Wu-Tang: An American Saga

Indya Moore (Puerto Rican, Dominican)

Just like many of their co-stars from the award-winning FX series Pose, Indya is out here reframing what success in Hollywood looks like for trans- and gender-nonconforming actors. While they credit the role of Angel Evangelista for helping to challenge their own childhood trauma, Indya’s next role is one in which gender and sexuality won’t factor at all.