The Writer: Olivia Petter
Date first published: 25 April 2019
You may know Zoe Saldana for her leading roles in Hollywood blockbusters such as Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers franchise, but behind the scenes, the New Jersey-born actor is also a savvy entrepreneur with a social conscience.
Last year, the 40-year-old mother-of-three launched Bese, a digital news platform that aims to give underrepresented communities a voice online.
“Bese is about reconstructing and re-contextualising narratives around how young people connect to today’s America,” Saldana writes. “It’s about inclusivity and telling the stories that navigate the cultures, identities, and nations that make up this country.”
Recent articles include one on Hawaiian Lei maker, Meleana Estes and another on Peruvian chef, Antoanet “Ant” Aburto.
Saldana is the CEO and editor-in-chief, a role that has propelled her into avenues outside of cinema.
On Wednesday 24 April, it was revealed that Saldana had been appointed a judge for this year’s Chivas Venture, a competition that gives away $1m (£775,000) in no-strings funding every year to the most promising social startups from around the world.
What inspired you to launch Bese?
“Being American, and being part of a community that makes up a large percentage of the US population but is completely underrepresented. I wouldn’t use the word ‘ethnic’, because I think that word is just another way of othering a community that is now in the mainstream. But I want to start building confidence by better representing other people.“
I’m not doing it out of anger or anything, I’m just doing it because of what I want to feel when I turn on my TV, go to a museum, listen to music, or open up a fashion magazine… even when I read about finance and tech in silicon valley, I want to see a much more balanced representation of what America is outside of my door.”
Who would you say you launched Bese for?
“I’m not just doing this for people of colour, I’m doing this for women, for the LGBT+ community, for people who are disabled, for those who have special needs, and everyone who wants to be entrepreneurs. I live in Los Angeles and I come from New York and I have never seen a businessman or a businesswoman in a wheelchair on their way to work.
“We don’t see that. America has a lot of growing up to do. I don’t want to point fingers, I want to make this country better. And a part of that is up to me. After all, I pay taxes here.”
Have you had moments in your career where you’ve had to fight to get your voice heard?
“I don’t ‘fight’. That’s a term that I feel has negative connotations, you lose people’s ears when you use it. I think it’s more about discourse.
“I’m always open to having healthy and progressive discussions about how we can be better in this area. So, yes, I think I’ve always been a part of that conversation in the way that I’ve chosen to live my life and the way that I’ve steered my career by saying no to things that were not representative of who I was as an American woman, as a brown woman, and as a straight woman. This is also true in the things I’ve said ‘yes’ to.”
Do you look for a diverse team or crew when you say ‘yes’ to projects?
“No, I’m an artist so I can’t measure my passion on social justice. That wouldn’t be fair for an artist. And it would be limiting actually. I think it’s a conversation that needs a lot more attention, but I’m not socially active about my [acting] career.
“I created Bese so I can socially be active there and do good through my business. I think that’s super important, which is why brands like those competing for the Chivas Venture really need support of public figures for amplification. I hope I can include myself in that category, because I think we’re helping brands a great deal. We really want them to broaden the way they tell stories to get consumers to buy their products.”
How do you balance running Bese alongside your acting career while raising three children?
“I don’t know and I feel like it’s my duty to be as honest as possible about this. I don’t want everyone to think I know exactly how to compartmentalise my life. Right now it’s becoming extremely challenging because I have so much on the table.
“There’s so much I want to do and I only have 24 hours in one day to do it all. But my main priority is my family, so I’m trying to balance that out. I still love my career, so I’m going to try to make it all work.”
What qualities do you think make a good female role model in business?
“I’m going to say passion. For so long we’ve been told that in order for women to be credible in business, they have to remove any kind of emotion.
“The word ‘hysterical’ was always used every time women had an opinion about something or were passionately in disagreement because something was bad for business. But I think breaking that down and channelling your passion is super important. I also think patience is key, because this gives you leniency as a leader and allows room for error.
What’s your one piece of advice to women who want to start their own businesses?
“Give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t act out of fear. As women, we’re very charged having experienced years of being told that we’re inferior. Now, there’s a lot of emotion and anger and it’s important to harness that energy so we can take our or own provisions of power in business.
“Something that has also helped me in my business is that I’m very nurturing by nature, so I teach others the way I would’ve wanted to be taught.”