by Abaki Beck
Our Feminist Hero Friday this week is the actress, activist, entrepreneur, and overall badass Puerto Rican, Gina Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is perhaps most known for her current role as Jane in the hit CW show Jane the Virgin. In addition to being a dramatic comedy about a young woman’s life after she is accidentally artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant, the show features a nearly all Latinx cast, and has touched on issues such as immigration, documentation, and healthcare. In one episode in the first season, for example, it is revealed that Jane’s grandmother (whom she lives with) is undocumented, and may be deported for visiting the hospital after a fall. Rodriguez received a Golden Globe award for this character in 2015, having being nominated once before.
Most recently, Rodriguez starred in the film Deepwater Horizon, about the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, one of the worst environmental disasters in our country. In the film, Rodriguez plays 23 year old Andrea Fleytas, who went above her rank to make the SOS call after the explosion, who noted that “nobody was in charge.” Though she likely saved the lives of many onboard the oil rig, she was punished for going above the chain of command. The character - and Rodriguez herself - is receiving wide praise because she is strong, independent, and a real - not stereotypical - Latina.
Unfortunately, dynamic and complex Latinx characters are rare in film - where they exist at all. In reaction to this, and in particular in the wake of the all white Oscar nominees in the top four categories last year, Rodriguez created the series Movement Mondays on her Instagram. On Mondays, she posts photos and information about POC actors and artists to celebrate and support them, and encourage others to do the same. Though it initially started as a series highlighting Latinx actors, after a few weeks she noted that “one thing I have realized over the past few weeks is how important and necessary diversity is for so many ethnicities underrepresented and even though I may not know about every culture I want to learn. I want to celebrate all artists...I want to grow in my knowledge and use my voice to highlight all those doing great work that aren’t often seen on screen.” You can see her Movement Monday series on her Instagram, @hereisgina.
In the philanthropic world, Rodriguez is a partner at Naja, a lingerie line that works to empower women. They do this both in how the lingerie is made, and how it is advertised. The line is designed and advertised as for all body types and the photos of the lingerie are taken absent of the "male gaze," focusing instead on the women (not simply the bodies) wearing them. In addition, they employ female heads of households or single mothers, offer them above market wages, healthcare, and aid with childcare through flexible work hours and covering the cost of their children’s school books and school lunches. The company also has an “Underwear for Hope” program that allows poor women in Colombia to create the lingerie bags for the company at home, encouraging them to become their own “micro-entrepreneurs.” In addition to her work at Naja, Rodriguez is on the Board of Directors at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and in 2015 worked with The Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights National Bullying Prevention Center to raise money for their bullying prevention work.
Perhaps what I admire most about Rodriguez, in addition to these accomplishments, is her connection and commitment to her family. In an interview with TIME magazine (everyone should watch the video, it’s beautiful and inspiring), Rodriguez and her sisters all note the power of their father, who would whisper in their ears at night “you can be anything you want to be” - talking to their subconscious and inspiring strength. They grew up in a violent neighborhood in Chicago, and because of this, Gina’s sister Ivelisse notes that their parents promoted an attitude of optimism and education. Gina also notes that having her sisters as role models - one is an investment banker, the other is a doctor (#powertrio) - set the bar high for being educated and paving a way for yourself in the world; models she did not necessarily see elsewhere in her family.
This week, join us in celebrating Gina Rodriguez as a brilliant actress, heartfelt activist, and inspiring entrepreneur.