EXCLUSIVE: Selenis Leyva on ‘Orange is the New Black’ & Latinas in Hollywood

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In terms of projects and Hollywood, do you think it's gotten any better for Latinas and the types of roles that are offered?

I think that it’s been a progression, definitely. But it’s a little tricky. ‘Diversity’ means a lot of different things. It can mean one actor per show or one per network. It can mean a ton of different groups, and we have one person representing all of them on screen. I think OITNB is really groundbreaking in that respect, in the types of women we’re seeing on the show: African-American, Latina, transgender… but there are other big shows that do include Latinas. We have our Devious Maids and our Modern Family. Do we want to see more? Of course, of course, there’s always room for more.

I’d hope that we will soon see more leading roles coming through. I think you see a few leading women out there representing Latinas: Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, Eva Mendes… but I think there is still something missing as far as Latinas in major Hollywood roles, as opposed to being guest stars or supporting roles. Which is a shame. I think Zoe Saldana with Colombiana proved that Latinas as leading women can bring in an audience. I’d love to see more of that. Before, we made our mark with the “Latino Explosion” in Hollywood, but now I think there’s a real movement to include more voices. That there’s now more meaning to it. It’s not just seen as a phase anymore.

What's next for you - what projects are on the radar?

We’re filming the second season of OITNB, and I have a movie coming out where I play a supporting role alongside Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts called St. Vincent De Van Nuys, or St. Vincent’s, that’s coming out in 2014. And I have an indie film coming out and making the rounds in 2014 called Living with the Dead.

Any final thoughts on Latinas in media?

Before, for me growing up, there weren’t a lot of Latinas, especially Afro-Latinas, out there to look to. Now, for my daughter, it’s different. There are people who look like her, and her mother and her abuela in plays, on covers of magazines, on TV. It’s an exciting time. And hopefully it only gets better.

Catch Orange is the New Black on Netflix. 

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