Action heroine Zoe Saldana takes no prisoners

Zoe Saldana does not mince her words in the face of controversy.
Zoe Saldana does not mince her words in the face of controversy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • She is emerging as the go-to star for big budget action blockbusters, knocking human and alien heads together in Avatar (2009), Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) and Star Trek (2009, 2013, 2016).

But 38-year-old American actress Zoe Saldana is not averse to giving her real-life adversaries a kicking either, with Star Trek grandee George Takei and English James Bond novelist Anthony Horowitz the latest in her firing line.

Takei - in the headlines recently for criticising the upcoming Star Trek Beyond for giving his old character Hikaru Sulu a gay back story - ought to get out more, according to Saldana.

"I think that he's still too personally attached to this character that he created and I think that he needs to find that line between his personal life and this character," she said ahead of the movie's release in the United States on Friday.

Openly gay Takei took to Facebook last Wednesday to say that while he was "delighted" with the idea of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters in Star Trek, he did not think writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung should "tinker with an existing character".

Pegg, along with current Sulu actor John Cho and other cast members, has defended the decision, but has been less forthright in his responses to Takei's criticisms than Saldana, who suggested she found them insulting.

"Maybe that's not the way (Takei) played him, but that's the way we decided to go," the actress, who took on the role of Nyota Uhura from series original Nichelle Nichols, said.

"It is an alternate universe and maybe Uhura is gay too and that's why her and Spock maybe may not work. Is Nichelle Nichols going to come and insult the whole franchise?"

Saldana, born in the US to Puerto Rican and Dominican parents, grew up in New York before moving to the Dominican Republic at the age of 10 when her father was killed in a car crash.

Although ballet was her first love, she got into acting on her return to the US as a teenager and began bagging TV roles by the late 1990s.

She appeared in more than a dozen films over the following decade, including Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl in 2003 and, fittingly, as a Star Trek fan in Steven Spielberg's The Terminal in 2004.

Her big break came, though, in the 2009 movie reboot of the Star Trek film series by J.J. Abrams.

She has since been exploring the far reaches of the universe as blue-skinned Na'vi heroine Neytiri in James Cameron's Avatar (also 2009) and green alien assassin Gamora in Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy. It was another kind of skin tone alteration that caused her the most controversy, when she became embroiled in a "blacking up" scandal earlier this year for her portrayal of African-American singer Nina Simone.

"There's no one way to be black," the mother of 20-month-old twin boys with husband, Italian artist Marco Perego, told Allure magazine in response to the criticism that she had darkened her skin and worn facial prosthetics in the widely panned Nina.

"I'm black the way I know how to be. You have no idea who I am. I am black. I'm raising black men. Don't you ever think you can look at me and address me with such disdain."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Action heroine Zoe Saldana takes no prisoners'. Print Edition | Subscribe