Rosie Perez Shares the Brutal Truth of Being a Female Actor of Color in Hollywood

Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Many of the most powerful industries are male dominated. One can peruse a list of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, glance at the diversity index for tech start-ups, or scan through your typical movie credits for quick verification. How to get ahead in business as a woman or as a female identified individual can prove daunting. There is no set path, no one way to successfully break the glass ceiling. Those who have made it to such professional heights had to be inventive, persistent, and resourceful.

At an exciting day-long event at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, some of these women shared the jump starts and pitfalls they’ve encountered as they forged their own paths. Part of Tribeca Talks, the Daring Women Summit consisted of panels that delved into topics that included storytelling, activism and the evolving digital landscape. Though each panel’s focus was different, similar themes arose throughout: the need for more female voices, calls to diversify the media landscape, and to create more opportunities for women to call the shots.

Featured speakers included Latina luminaries who shared their opinions on the hurdles facing women today and tips for how to overcome them. Actress and activist Rosie Perez kicked off the morning with a “One on One” conversation in which she conveyed her thoughts on the status of women in film today: “It sucks,” she said, as the audience chuckled in agreement. “It’s gotten better but it still sucks.” During the panel, “Cracking the Code: Hollywood, Diversity and Computer Science,” Google’s Educator-in-Chief Julie Ann Crommett discussed the important role perception plays in the career choices women make. She states, “It’s not only about the access; it’s about the image, the culture, and it’s about feeling accepted, and feeling like this is for you.” Actress, writer and TV personality La La Anthony, in a panel titled “Using Your Platform,” talked about what it’s like to be pigeonholed and how she’s managed to step out of her own shadow.

Read on for more highlights and inspiring words from these fierce ladies that are sure to give your day a big motivational boost.

Rosie Perez On Navigating the Male-Dominated Entertainment Industry

“How many crackhead hoe scripts are you going to send me? I don’t mind being a crackhead hoe but you better make me the lead!”

Well, I think that it’s a men’s club. And I think that if I go into a meeting, it’s a bit condescending “Oh, you’re so cute.” I know that already. Can we move on? Do they say that to a man when he comes into the room? I love being sexy. I think I own my sexuality. I don’t apologize for it. But if I don’t wear something sexy to a meeting, you see the difference as to how you’re treated and perceived. And it’s not the same for men. I think that it’s just a boy’s club. How do you break that up? It is difficult. And when you’re a strong woman, they always call you a bitch. If you don’t come off as strong then they say you’re too passive and you’re apologizing for your sex. I just think that just like the AIDS movement, you just have to keep pushing and pushing until you get what you want. And that’s what you have to do. And also, I think that more women need to understand the business a bit better. You can write a film, you can write a screenplay, you have your project, but if you don’t fully understand that it’s a business and you do not understand who the players are in regards to who the money people are, and the people in power, you’re short-changing yourself and you’re short-changing the women’s movement in film and television as well. And a lot of times I see that, like “I have this great script and they just won’t…” Well, do you have money? “Well, I don’t know the money people.” Do your homework. I don’t feel sorry for you. Do your homework. It’s hard for me, too. It’s hard for all of us. But do your homework. And what I’ve learned in my 25 plus years in the activist world is that nobody really cares until you make them care. And the way you can make them care is if you have the majority of the answers before walking into the room.

Rosie Perez On Feeling Alienated by Hollywood Latinos

When I entered the entertainment world, I didn’t understand the world. I didn’t understand the politics. I understood the plight of Latinos in Hollywood to a certain extent but I didn’t really grasp how deep it was. And there were a lot of open wounds for the people that came before me. And when I entered and I was like, “Wait, a minute, this is messed up. Wait a minute. How many crackhead hoe scripts are you going to send me? I mean, I don’t mind being a crackhead hoe but you better make me the lead!” Like in Leaving Las Vegas, that movie with Nick Cage. She was a hoe! She was a hoe and everyone thought it was a tour de force, and it was. Because she had something to work with. And they were sending me stuff that I — there was no substance. And when I finally got a role that had substance I said “Yes” to [it]. And when I started complaining and saying, “Why won’t you give me the roles you’re offering Jessica Lange?” They saidm “Well, you’re not Jessica Lange.” Not yet. But you gotta give me the opportunity. The only way that I did that was by complaining, and what was really strange to me was that the majority of the Latino community in Hollywood, they would take me out to private lunches and tell me, “Shhh, stop rocking the boat. You don’t understand how hard we’ve worked.” I do understand how hard you’ve worked, and I’m the product of it. My confidence, my audacity, is a result of your sweat and tears. Don’t you see that? It’s like the civil rights movement. You can say that the young people of color today are boisterous and this and that. Well, you afforded them that. I don’t want to be quiet. I do want to rock the boat. But it was very, very painful to see the fear coming from my own people. I had to take pause and stop judging them because I had not been in the industry. Initially, I did not have that burning desire to work, and do good work. I was just having fun, initially. And when I realized that the wounds were very much open, it was a sore and pus was oozing, was coming out, I stopped judging and I tried to understand a little bit better and be more compassionate towards them so that they wouldn’t be completely turned off by me as well.

Rosie Perez On the Roles Offered Older Actresses of Color

“I don’t mean to sound vulgar but in Hollywood, they look at women and the litmus test is how fuckable you are.”

It’s not just about women but older women. It’s like you pass forty and they move on. I don’t mean to sound vulgar but, you know, how in Hollywood they do have, as you know, they look at women and the litmus test is how fuckable you are. And they think that women over forty aren’t fuckable. Well, it’s like, “Who you fucking, then?” You know, ladies? Cause in your forties you are hot, you are ready, you’re like, “Gzzzz. Keep up!” It’s true. And you’re like, What are you doing? And a woman who enters menopause, that’s a fantastic thing for an actress. Are you kidding? Your hormones are going, “Ping! Ping! Phew!” And you’re changing and you have all this to offer to a role. And you get out of your own way. And you don’t give a crap about a lot of things. That is rich for material. It doesn’t make any sense. And then women of color, it seems for me, that when you get older and you’re still sexy, it scares them in a weird way. And it seems like it’s the women who put on the poundage that get the roles, get the mom roles. And you’re like, really? Really? I go in for a role and they want to see me and they come in and they go, “You can’t play this character’s mother!” And I go, “Why?” “Well, you look too good.” Thank you but that’s a backhanded compliment. Are you kidding? There’s mothers who look hotter than me, that I aspire to. And it’s just the big thing that people of color, when they get older, you’re only relevant when you’re heavy and dowdy and that’s really insulting.

Julie Ann Crommett On the Importance of Perception

So we have done research at Google around why girls are not pursuing computer science and later we did a more recent study with Gallup that looked at Black and Hispanic boys and girls, and what we found is that stereotypes matter. In fact, stereotypes and perception of the career accounted for 30% of the decision for a girl in high school or college to pursue computer science. 30%. The only thing that was more powerful by about .5% was adult encouragement, which is of course tied to perception. The other two indications were self-perception and access. So when we at Google started thinking about a pipeline strategy to sort of build out our pipe for tech, we said well, we have to look at images, we have to look at perception, we have to look at culture. Because if we don’t, we run the risk of shooting ourselves in the foot with any other advancement we make. So think about that. We have all been taking math our whole lives since we were in school, we don’t see as many female mathematicians, do we? It’s not only about the access. It’s about the image, the culture, and it’s about feeling accepted, and feeling like this is for you.

Julie Ann Crommett On why Diversity Is Crucial for Nationwide Economic Success

By 2020 there will be 1 million (that’s four years away) we’ll have 1 million computer science and engineering jobs in the tech sector alone unfulfilled, according to the bureau of statistics, because we haven’t prepared a workforce to fill those holes. And that sounds incredibly problematic not just for Google but for our economy as a whole. Think about it. If we are not preparing a generation of people to take the jobs that are there, that are gonna move us forward as a country, we will fall behind. It’s pretty much that simple. And for us this isn’t a parody, again going back to values, that’s far beyond just Google. It’s for everybody, for all of us, in every industry. And that’s why we care. And that’s why we care what images are going on screen and how can we start to shift that narrative and create a deeper and richer connection with the audience. These are the statures I said earlier: less than 15% of computer science graduates are women in the United States. And then that’s also similar for Blacks and Hispanics- it’s less than 10% each, which of course is not representative of the US population. And as we know, the Hispanic population is only growing by leaps and bounds in terms of the work force.

La La Anthony On Being Pigeonholed and Stepping Out of Your Own Shadow

I had an issue with that a while back in my career because I started as a radio DJ and then I was also on TRL and MTV for so long, so forever I was La La from MTV, and that’s just what people knew me as. And as I transitioned into acting and producing, which are two of my biggest passions now, in the beginning people didn’t take me seriously. “This was La La from MTV. Oh, now she wants to be an actress? Yeah, right. She can’t do it.” But at the end of the day talent speaks for itself. I tell my team all the time, just put me in the room. Let me control what happens when I get in there. I just need the opportunity to be put in front of the right people, and be put in the room, and then I’ll do what I need to do. So, when it’s all said and done, your talent definitely speaks for itself.

We partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on and