Gina Rodriguez is nestled inside her Los Angeles studio, appearing fresh-faced as usual. While she’s digesting her breakfast—coffee in one hand, I’m fighting the itis after inhaling a rather ginormous soup from a local New York deli. “Girl, don’t fall asleep on me!” she laughs, fishing for my face as she peers into her computer screen. “Fight it, girl, fight it. We gotta talk.”
Adjusting her stool and flipping through what appears to be a script, the Jane the Virgin star feels familiar. We do not immediately jump into the purpose of our online meeting. She and I engage in brief chatter about the day’s course and how each of us is holding up. Even over technology, Rodriguez – if nothing at all – oozes authenticity, giving off real homegirl vibes from miles away. She sucks her teeth and cusses, sashaying between colloquialism and slang, rolling her neck all the while—refreshing to say the least.
After announcing she’d be breathing new life into the classic character of Carmen Sandiego, the Chi-city native partnered with telecommunications conglomerate AT&T, starring in a commercial ad championing impossibility—a concept the Golden Globe-winning actress holds to heart. We delve into the details of the upcoming Netflix revival, immigration reform, alternative teaching, and building on her social media series Movement Mondays with the intentions of one day introducing the program to schools.
VIBE Viva: The concept behind your partnership with AT&T is one of impossibility. How do you live your life unlimited and boundless?
Gina Rodriguez: It’s by choice. I live it because I understand that my journey is something that I can craft. The things that are in my control are definitely going to be by the standards of living my life with integrity, respect, and love. So, that’s what I’ll be doing all the time. I mean, I do believe it’s as simple as a choice.
As someone of Puerto Rican descent and from Chicago – a melting pot in its own right – where do you stand on immigration reform?
To dream of opportunity and freedom and to not believe in immigration reform is most definitely to be against everything that this country was founded on. We are a country of immigrants, dude. Nobody was from here. The only people that were from here, are the people we’re trying to kick out, which is obnoxious. It’s the craziest, most backward concept I’ve ever heard of, and it is all fear based. It’s all fear based.
I was actually just in Fresno state, and there were a lot of undocumented students, and they asked me—some of them had already joined DACA and whatnot, they were like so, what advice can you give me? And I told them besides obviously joining DACA and protecting yourself, I have no advice. You are stronger than I will ever be. You are stronger than I have ever been. To believe that you are a part of a country and because you weren’t born here, they’re going to kick you out to another country that you’ve never even known a day in your life—that’s just crazy. To leave your family. So backwards.
You have your Movement Mondays series, which I really love.
Do you plan on developing that into some kind of program that could possibly be implemented in schools?
I am now, because you said it! Hello! My manager’s out there. Do you hear this woman? That’s what I’m talking about. We need you. Take her information down… We’re currently working on making Movement Mondays bigger than it is to reach more people, to continue to highlight and uplift.
One thing Oprah did was she opened the doors for people’s success. It was like you went on the Oprah show, and your book is about to get sold. You know what I’m saying? You went on the Oprah show, and your fitness program is about to skyrocket. You know, she was the gateway to making sure that people were not only informed about these artists, these creatives, these innovators, these entrepreneurs, but she gave them a platform to fly. That’s what I want to do, that’s how I want to grow this.
#MovementMondays Rizwan “Riz” Ahmed Riz, also known as Riz MC, is an English actor and rapper. His parents moved to England from Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan during the 1970s. Riz has played several roles that have dealt with racial and Islamic stereotypes. He has even been outspoken about being racially profiled at airports especially through his music. It first happened in 2006 when he was on his way back from the Berlin film festival where he had promoted the independent film The Road to Guantanamo. He says he was illegally detained, questioned and threatened. He went on to write a song inspired this experience called “Post 9/11 Blues.” In 2016, Riz starred as Nazir Khan in The Night Of, a college student wrongly accused of murder – a crime that unleashes a simmering undercurrent of racism and Islamophobia. While on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Riz said “This is what British looks like. It looks like me. It looks like Idris Elba. And hopefully through Nasir Khan, America can see it’s what Americans look like, too.” In an article in the Guardian, Riz has stated that there are three career stages of any minority actor – “Stage one is the two-dimensional stereotype – the minicab driver/terrorist/cornershop owner.” Stage two challenges the stereotype. And stage three “is the promised land, where you play a character whose story is not intrinsically linked to their race. There I am not a terror suspect, nor a victim of forced marriage. There, my name might even be Dave.” Riz just appeared in Star Wars: Rogue One.
And she laid a blueprint.
Right. So, Movement Mondays came out of the #OscarsSoWhite, about a year and a half ago. And everybody was yelling, yelling, yelling. Everybody was so upset, and I get it. Trust me, because there was definitely a moment where I was just like, damn. Damn. Like, come on. Because it was so sad to feel so helpless. The same way sometimes I feel in our political arena. You feel so helpless. You feel like just one. How am I supposed to do anything that’s going to make anything progress? And so out of that feeling of helplessness, came the movement.
I’m chilling on set, and I’m like okay. At that point I had a million followers. I’m like, alright, at least a million people will hear about a homegirl that you know, who doesn’t have as many followers or that has a movie coming out this weekend. The least I can do is advertise that, right? You know what I’m saying? [Because] at least I can reach that many people. At least I can help in that way. That feels not so helpless. Now I’m like, okay I don’t feel as helpless now. Now I feel like I’m creating a solution. It felt like okay, every week I can highlight somebody. I am not afraid of other people’s success. I’m not afraid to put somebody on.
What a concept.
Right? What a concept. How crazy! Something that we need to culturally change. Somebody else’s success it not your failure—somebody else’s success is not your failure.
You are about to breathe new life into the classic character of Carmen Sandiego. How did that come about and what can fans expect from this version?
So, it is the origin story of Carmen Sandiego. It is so tight, so well written. It’s unbelievable. It’s going to be… I mean, I don’t know—which one did you see? Did you see the PBS one? Were you a video gamer? Did you see the animation?
I watched PBS.
Ok, that was my jumpoff, too. It’s vastly different. It is going through the story of Carmen Sandiego, her origin story and why she’s such a badass—she’s like a Robin Hood thief. She’s exactly what I want to be in life. Maybe not a thief [Laugh], but you know what I mean.
You can expect a really, really good series. Really well read and well written. You know how Netflix be doing, they just don’t disappoint. We have really great partners for the illustration. It is going to be a really awesome journey. And still geographical, still giving you education, and history. So, it’s pretty tight. A little old school Carmen San Diego, but you’re going to learn some things, like I did. In a very entertaining way. It is much more entertaining than when we were shorties. [Laughs]
If Gina Rodriguez wasn’t a Golden Globe-winning actress, who would she be?
I’d be a teacher.
Yea, girl, because – it’s hilarious – it’s another opportunity for me to be at the head of the class, and everybody shuts up and they have to listen to me. [Laughs] I realized that last night. I did a SAG foundation conversation and they asked the same question. And I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. But I realized last night like—ooh, but why? Because then people still have to listen to me talk! Which is terrible. [Laughs] But seriously, I love being in a position where I can not only educate others – because that’s something we [should] all be doing constantly, and evolving – but to encourage an alternative kind of schooling… Love, self love, acceptance, empathy. Do you know what I’m saying? We have to teach these babies how to be empathetic.