Melissa Barrera always knew she wanted to be on the stage. But when she arrived in New York to study musical theatre at Tisch, she was unprepared for the tokenisation she encountered, and disappointed by how few actresses on the Broadway stage looked like her. In Monterrey she had never been “the other”, in America, there was no avoiding it. Returning to Mexico to star in telenovelas like Siempre tuya Acapulco and Tanto Amor, she didn’t return to the US until 2016. Trump had been elected, and she was starring in Vida, a series about Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles. The narrative that engulfed her off-screen was just as racially charged as that on-screen, and as she learned more about the Latinx American experience, something in her was set alight.
Since then Barrera has played a range of roles that reflect and empower women who look like her, whether it be Vanessa in the musical drama film In the Heights, or Sam in SCREAM 5, which will be released in January 2022.
But she’s not stopping there - Barrera is now writing her own films and setting out plans to launch a production company, in order to bring other Latinx actors, directors and writers into the spotlight with her.
“Sometimes you just need one person to pull you up. I’ve been lucky in my life that I’ve been pulled up plenty of times by people that have believed in me, so I want to do that for other people. I want to be able to lend a hand and bring writers, directors, actors, up, and give them things to do. I realised that it's so easy to complain about the gaps in the industry, and it's harder to do something about it. I've never been a complainer, I’m more the person that’s like ‘yes, women should be paid equally, women of colour especially should be paid equally, and yes, we should have more representation as Latinos’, but I'm not just going to sit there and write a paragraph complaining on my social media. I’m going to get to work”.
Here, the actress, producer, and Clinique global brand ambassador sits down with Rollacoaster to discuss the importance of making people feel seen, her dreams for her production company, and the lessons she’s learned from her characters.
Interview and words by Octavia Akoulitchev