“We can’t just focus on just whatever the media gives us, or what we’re told to think is important…”
Trying to put Rosario Dawson in a box labeled either “actress” or “activist” is too difficult a task.
She appeared in her first film, Kids, at 15, and since then, has acted in everything from comedies, musicals and dramas to biopics, and television series. Dawson, who is of Puerto Rican, Cuban, African-American, Irish, and Native American heritage, has also used her career to bring attention to a number of issues, from at-risk youth to conservation, even co-founding an organization encouraging Latinos to engage in voting and change.
When she isn’t on our Netflix screens acting in numerous Marvel series’, or featuring in Hollywood blockbusters, Dawson is usually doing some kind of good for society, most recently, engaging with a conservation project aiming to help protect the less-attractive at-risk creatures that help make the world go ’round…
What attracted you to partake in the ‘Save Ugly’ campaign to begin with?
I love the really creative way they’d thought of to try to bring attention to conservation. In the video, we have a Mary River Turtle, voiced by Cate Blanchett. While we were filming the song, the Mary River Turtle was on the brink of becoming endangered and then actually went on the endangered list, right after we started shooting. So as funny and silly as the video is, it’s also very real and critical, so I hope what we’ve done is going to bring more attention to what’s going on in our eco-system and what we can do about it.
What was the whole experience like, dressing up as a moth and singing and dancing?
Oh my god, it was hilarious. I mean I remember when Zoe, the director, first told me about it, it took a while to understand that she wasn’t just joking with me. It didn’t help when they played the song about whale poop, I was like “no way”.
When I realized that was she wasn’t kidding, that this was real, and we were gonna do this thing, I just became very grateful that she got me on board, Everybody was grateful, from the woman who did the moth costume, to all of the different puppeteers. We were so grateful that the things they love and are passionate about could somehow contribute to this campaign, and to the story, which I think is incredibly important.
We can’t just focus on just whatever the media gives us, or what we’re told to think is important, like stuff that’s already popular and comfortable. You kinda need to take it in and look at the ugly truth; that there are many aspects of our society and our eco-system which are really, vitally important and need our attention, and it’s not always going to be something cuddly or cute. So I think that’s really refreshing.
Getting my Burt Reynolds on for @Wilderness_AUS in my epic Ethmia Clytodoxa Moth costume for the #SaveUgly campaign that launched today directed by the incredible @therealzoebell! ? Visit ugly.wilderness.org.au to see how you can help #SaveUgly! #EthmiaClytodoxaMoth #MothLife #GiantGippslandEarthworm
You’ve been a prominent activist for many causes throughout your life. What are your motivations for being an activist?
I think it’s a combination of the experiences that I’ve had and the stories I’ve heard from other people in my life and my community. They’ve always kept me really aware of the circumstances which I’ve been in, whether I’m appreciative or not. My mother was a teenage mom so I grew up thinking about that. I grew up in New York during the age of the aids, crack cocaine and heroin epidemics, black housing issues, homelessness; there are a lot of different things that were on top of each other, and were really unavoidable.
It’s really weird, the intersectionality between all of that. When I was really young I wanted to become a marine biologist, because I recognized, even growing up in the city, there was more to the whole planet and all of the creatures out there were really curious to me. Just to have the opportunity now and over the years to be able to maybe not fulfill my dream of becoming a marine biologist, but somehow try to help tell the story and help those little creatures is really driving and important to me.
What has been your experience as a woman in the acting industry?
I’ve experienced being able to utilize my voice in different ways over the years. There’s definitely a lot of people in leadership roles and a lot of representatives who are doing things which are immoral and have a very clear agenda that really have to do with number crunches on behalf of the one percent and not really thinking of the greater community that we live in. Instead, they’re dividing us and attacking people and starving them of funds and limiting their access to education and privacy and safety. People in multiple communities and demographics are being affected.
It’s been really amazing to watch so many different communities start to use their voices in a stronger way. You know, people have been denying a lot of issues for a lot of years, but there just didn’t seem to be the same technology or level of media attention as there is now. There are so many new and different access points and a fever pitch that’s happening right now on many critical issues from immigration to discrimination to abuse, and it’s so beautiful and powerful to see people using technologies not just to take selfies, but also to really exposing issues and everyday sexism.
It’s finally at a point where we’ve hit a critical mound and are making some really big ripples and it’s really encouraging to see what we’re capable of bringing to the greater consciousness right now. It’s also really inspiring to see how many activists, organizations, and people who have been doing it for such a long time suddenly get all of this awareness. People have all this courage that is showing what people can do when they work together and collaborate together and make critical changes.
Why do you think that it’s important to draw attention to campaigns which might not be as ‘attractive’ as other social campaigns that are happening?
For me, it’s like looking at the ugly parts of myself that I need to embrace in order to have real self-care and love so I can motivate every single day to keep doing the things that I need to do. Because anxiety, depression, stress; all those things make a really big impact and I didn’t grow up doing the healthiest practices, which is something I’ve had to learn as I’ve gotten older. I think that is really representative of how we are as a society. I think there’s a lot of things that we deny and we don’t look at, and there’s a lot of stuff that we’re not comfortable with, and so it doesn’t get as much attention.
I think the ugly truth is we can’t keep ignoring problems we have and the issues which exist. Unfortunately, a lot of these problems have been ignored for so long, whether because of people not voting or being conscious about politics, and spending so much time, money and energy on things and not marching to the polls, we’ve got into a really dire place.
It’s kind of crazy how we just lost the last white rhino, and when we were filming this video, the Mary River Turtle became endangered; this is all stuff that has an effect on all of us. People are starting to think about that with the bees. I dressed up as a moth because moths do a lot for nature and pollination, and they get a bad reputation because they’re only talked about as eating your clothes. But they’re necessary for our eco-system. And you hear little kids making comments about it and trying to be more thoughtful around it. When those people get older and they grow, they’re going to be the ones to make sure to have people in places who are gonna do something about it.
We haven’t paid attention for so long, and the people who have been pushing for the less attractive issues haven’t had their voices amplified and that’s just because they don’t have the access. You can still see the gatekeepers who aren’t willing to let go, and so it’s just gonna take a really concerted effort to get our attention to do something about it, because it’s so stressful and unless we have the time to make it something humorous, it’s just going to be really difficult to penetrate through all the noise out there.
But I think that the artistry, the humor, passion, and motivation is what’s really gonna get us to go “what can I be inspired to do”, rather than just feel overwhelmed with it. I mean, I recently flew from New York and I had to fly into Los Angeles to vote because I had not voted beforehand and I was so sure there would be a massive turn out. But I think only 20 or 25 percent of eligible voters voted and we have to do better than that.
If you’re looking at the news and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at what people are posting and how alive and ‘woke’ everyone is, you’d think that voting numbers would be increasing, which is what really critically needs to happen. If we don’t put pressure on the government and the folks at the top, if we’re not running for office, or not voting, or doing different things, we’re going to keep seeing the same thing, and that’s just not really an option anymore.
I’ve always been so grateful to be part of campaigns like this that try to get through to people and hopefully stick in their head. There’s a lot of stuff which is vying for people’s attention, and so we need something which forces us to really look at things we don’t want to look at, and to figure out ways that we can embrace them and make a critical change and connect with an important message.
Why do you think it’s crucial to get people involved in voting?
Right now there’s this whole crazy thing where they are dropping voters. They’re getting away with it too, because of this loophole through the Supreme Court which says that they can send these little mailers through to people’s offices and homes, and if they don’t send the mail back, it means that they don’t live there anymore, so then their vote is dropped.
This is literally disenfranchising millions of people, because the way they’ve structured it means these mailers don’t even look like something you’d return, they just look like junk mail. They say they’re doing it because people move, but all it’s doing is making voting more difficult instead of easier. It just shows how powerful voting actually is because they’re really trying to stop people from doing it. I started a voting organization 14 years ago called ‘VoteLatino‘, and it’s something that is incredibly important to me because it’s something which doesn’t require money. Some campaigns and activism require donations, time, energy or different things like that. But voting is free, yet it comes with such a heavy price if it’s not done. So we need to focus on getting people to the polls, whatever it takes. We need to get creative.
Culture precedes legislation. I think that it’s critically important to have so many voices to be a part of our arts and our culture because it exposes us to so many different ideas that otherwise we just wouldn’t see. And we need that kind of exposure and those experiences. It’s why the arts are always the first thing to go when there’s an economic pinch. Everything is going to stay the same until it gets voted into being something different, so hopefully, people can start getting more passionate about this kind of stuff.
For example, I went to ban single-use plastic bags in Sacramento, California, and we got these amazing organizations involved who do gang rehabilitation. They teach these young ex-gang members to put in solar panels and recycle bags, and it’s beautiful to see because plastic bags clog up waterways in our cities and it’s a really huge issue which affects all of us. So when you have a bunch of reformed gang members showing up in Sacramento to help remove plastic bags and clean the city, people remember that.
I’m currently doing an activist project with this guy who has a book which has just come out called Ricanstruction. He’s asked all of these different writers and artists to write different stories about Puerto Rico to help support the country and one hundred percent of the proceeds are going to support Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurrican Maria. This is really vitally important because the comic book community is huge and they spend money and care, so DC came on board and said, “you can use Wonder Woman and Supergirl in your book,” which are these massive names in the industry and that will drive people to buy this collector’s item.
And just like that, we’re tapping into a whole other community that can help raise money and learn more about the islands and all of the stories embedded into it. Because again, we’ve shift gears and have forgotten about Maria, but there are still people without electricity in Puerto Rico. There are still people without clean drinking water in Flint! It’s so hard to capture peoples’ attention for a long period of time in order to make the impact that campaigns really need to have.
So, I’m always really grateful to try to join in whatever ways I can with these organizations and campaigns which find different ways to expose and to tap into different resources. And we’ve really got this and we really can make a really big impact, but we have to have the opportunity to do so.
Images via Instagram.