If you needed an articulate, thoughtful ally to help you persuade the critics in your life that science fiction and its adjacent genres is more — way more — than diversionary fantasy entertainment aimed at escaping the unambitious from their real lives, you’d be hard pressed to find a better apologist working in the field than Zoe Saldana.
The franchise star of Avatar, Star Trek, and Guardians of the Galaxy, along with a handful of other genre features, says she even encounters that kind of criticism within the very industry that profits from the success of superhero blockbusters. But she doesn’t get mad, she says — she simply redirects.
“I’ve been in rooms with people in this industry who are great at what they do, but they’re absolutely elitist and they look down at movies like the Marvel films or actors like myself. They think we’re selling out in some way,” she told high fashion online retailer Net-a-Porter in a recent interview feature.
A little perspective, she added, would go a long way in helping would-be haters reflect on the value that people take from stories and characters that transcend what’s possible. Saldana takes the rising-tide approach to what’s good about working in the genre, and finds benefit both for herself as a successful actor, as well as for fans who embrace the idea that heroism isn’t a futile aspiration.
“Every time [critics] speak I feel so disappointed in them, because whenever you see pictures of people in this industry who donate their time to children in need, it’s these actors that live in the world that you feel is selling out. It’s these actors that understand the role that they play inspires a five-year-old who has one dying wish to meet a superhero. That actor takes time out of their life and sits down with that five-year-old and says, ‘I see you, I hear you, and you matter.’ Those elitists should be a little more cognizant about what playing a superhero means to a young child. Because you’re not just dissing me, you’re dissing what that child considers important in their world.”
The seeds laid in childhood that grow a lifelong affection for bigger-than-life stories aren’t just kids’ stuff, Saldana said. Rather, they’re valuable opportunities for people who might not fit in to learn that being different isn’t just something you can learn to live with — it can be downright cool. Recalling her admiration for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, or Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in The Terminator, Saldana said her childhood love of science fiction provided fuel for her real-life ambitions — not a refuge from reality.
It’s an approach that’s definitely taken her to the stars. “I feel so proud to be living in space, to be playing green and blue aliens, to inspire, primarily, the younger generations,” she said. “I remember what it was like to be young and to feel completely excluded out of the mainstream conversation of life because I was just little and unimportant and ‘other.’”
As if to ratify the validity of everything Saldana says, her upcoming projects look like one box office-topping slab of evidence that fantasy and science fiction are relevant to a whole lot of people. In addition to the April 27 launch of Avengers: Infinity War — the year’s most anticipated movie — you can also catch Saldana in the upcoming pair of Avatar sequels. And she’ll be back with the Avengers again next year, when Marvel’s Infinity War follow-up swings into theaters.