Rodriguez soon apologized — although some questioned how genuinely — in a follow-up video: “I am sorry if I offended anyone by singing along to the Fugees, to a song I love that I grew up on. I love Lauryn Hill. And I am really sorry if I offended you.” (The actress issued a longer statement late Tuesday, writing, “I have some serious learning and growing to do and I am so deeply sorry for the pain I have caused.")
But as many noted on social media, Rodriguez, a Chicago native of Puerto Rican descent, might have anticipated the anger. The actress has long faced criticism for appearing to overlook black women as she advocates for women and Latinos in Hollywood. In July 2017, when Marvel began to promote its groundbreaking film “Black Panther,” Rodriguez tweeted, “Marvel and DC are killing it in inclusion and women but where are the Latinos?! Asking for a friend …”
The question provoked ire not least because “Black Panther” marked a profound cultural moment for African Americans. And, as many pointed out, both companies have employed Latino actors. Rodriguez’s tweet seemed to ignore that two of Marvel’s highest-grossing movie franchises prominently feature actresses of Afro-Latino descent: Zoe Saldana, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican, stars as Gamora in “Guardians of the Galaxy”; Tessa Thompson, whose father is Afro-Panamanian, plays Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Both actresses appeared in this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” which obliterated box office records.
In 2018, Rodriguez was blasted for interrupting her “Smallfoot” co-star Yara Shahidi during a press junket when an interviewer asked Shahidi, the star of Freeform’s “Grown-ish,” about being a role model to young black women. “So many women,” Rodriguez corrected, prompting reproach from fans who thought the question — about the on-screen representation of a group that has been routinely overlooked and misrepresented — had been phrased appropriately in its initial form.
Rodriguez drew similar criticism later that year when she stated in a roundtable interview with Net-a-Porter that “black women get paid more than Asian women, Asian women get paid more than Latina women, and it’s, like, a very scary space to step into.” This isn’t the case in Hollywood, the industry the gathered actresses had been discussing; at that point, Sofia Vergara, the Colombian star of “Modern Family,” had topped Forbes’s list of the highest-paid actresses for seven consecutive years. Rodriguez’s claim isn’t true in the wider workforce, either, where recent estimates cite narrower wage gaps for white and Asian women.
Rodriguez’s latest blunder might be more complicated than the others, however. There is a long-standing debate in hip-hop around whether Latino artists should use the n-word — a discussion that broadened when Jennifer Lopez uttered the slur in Ja Rule’s remix of her 2001 song “I’m Real.” She defended herself on the “Today” show, saying the suggestions of her being racist were “really absurd and hateful to me” and clarifying that the lyric had been written by Ja Rule, who told MTV News she was not “the first Latino to use that word on a record, and it’s never been an issue before.” Fat Joe, a rapper of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, has long held that Latinos should be allowed to use the n-word and said in a recent interview on Hot 97′s “Ebro in the Morning” that “Latinos are black.”
Rodriguez has not used this defense, though she described her father as Afro-Latino while addressing the “devastating” backlash to her Net-a-Porter interview in a January episode of “Sway in the Morning.”
“The black community was the only community that I looked towards growing up. We didn’t have many Latino shows, and the black community made me feel like I was seen,” she said through tears. “So to get anti-black is saying that I’m anti-family. … If anything, the black community is my community. As Latinos, we have black Latinos. That is what we are. I am not, so I think that when I speak about Latino advocacy, people believe I only mean people of my skin color.”
Update: Rodriguez apologized in a written statement late Tuesday.
In song or in real life, the words that I spoke, should not have been spoken. I grew up loving the Fugees and Lauryn Hill. I thoughtlessly sang along to the lyrics of a favorite song, and even worse, I posted it. The word I sang, carries with it a legacy of hurt and pain that I cannot even imagine. Whatever consequences I face for my actions today, none will be more hurtful than the personal remorse I feel. Watching my own video playing back at me, has shaken me to my core. It is humiliating that this has to be a public lesson but it is indeed a much deserved lesson. I feel so deeply protective and responsible to the community of color but I have let this community down. I have some serious learning and growing to do and I am so deeply sorry for the pain I have caused.
This post has been updated.