by Andrea Plaid
Actor Rosario Dawson doubtlessly brings the fierceness into her roles. Whether she plays an HIV+ stripper, a sex worker, a railway yardmaster, or the beneficiary of Will Smith’ literal and figurative heart, Dawson is not a ride-or-die chick–she’s a roll-deep woman.
I realized how deep she rolled–and am still deeply grateful for it, to be honest–when she famously defended her gurl Eva Mendes from Paul Rudd’s sexual harassment during an awards show back in 2010. As Owner/Editor Latoya Peterson states:
In addition, it was probably important for Dawson to stand up for her friend–often when we are in the midst of a tricky situation, it can be difficult to act. Again, we don’t know what Mendes was thinking this whole time, but she may have hesitated because she didn’t want to make a scene or disturb the proceedings. She might have been completely comfortable with Rudd’s prolonged contact; but she could have equally been horrified and did not know how to extract herself from the situation.
Dawson’s intervention also served a third purpose: to subvert the dominant paradigm with regards to how people treat women at Award shows, particularly in regard to the the bodies of brown women. Had Rosario Dawson not jumped on stage and grabbed Rudd, would we have even heard about the bit? And would that bit have been considered if Rudd was onstage with a white woman? I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of when white women have had their chest area exposed or groped for entertainment value on an award show stage, and I am coming up short. Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson back in 2004 at the Superbowl and Diana Ross reached out and touched Lil’ Kim at the 1999 VMAs, but that’s about all that comes to mind.
But when it comes to women (particularly brown women), bodies, and consent, even something as simple as a kiss becomes an interesting moment in seeing the difference how people react to different scenarios.
So when we look at the Rudd-Mendes-Dawson event, it is a feminist success because it allowed Dawson to both stand up for her friend and publicly challenge a dominant idea that women’s bodies are sexually fair game as entertainment fodder.
Dawson stays rolling deep her activism: she serves on Eve Ensler’s V-day Board and is involved with human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International, PFLAG, the RESPECT! Campaign (to end intimate-partner violence), and Voto Latino (which she co-founded), as well as environmental groups like Global Cool and SodaStream. As for the picture at the top of the post, taken outside the Democratic National Convention in September, No Paper, No Fear reports:
The actress joined several undocumented immigrants in shouting, “No Papers, No Fear!” Then the Men in Black II star grabbed a sign reading “undocumented,” and held it above her head.
At least 10 protestors were arrested, prompting Rosario to grab a megaphone and shout, “That’s what it takes … For all of you who just got arrested, I want to commend your bravery. Things will change. We are here with you.”
One could say that New York-born-and-reared and Afro-Latina-proud Dawson got her activism honest, as some older Black folks would say: her mom (who gave birth to Dawson when she was 17 and the father walked out on her) and her stepdad (who rekindled the romance with Dawson’s mom when she was eight months pregnant with Rosario and later adopted her) moved out of a slumlord-maintained apartment into an abandoned building in the Lower East Side and renovated it when Dawson was six. And Dawson learned about feminism from her mom’s activism:
[W]hen Dawson was 10, her mother volunteered at a crisis centre where women who had been “beaten and abused, probably for years, showed up with children and the T-shirt on their back”. She would help her mother at Housing Works, an organisation providing housing for families and homeless people living with HIV/AIDS. “One person had been living like a hermit and didn’t have any family, any friends, and died. So here we were cleaning it out, and trying to make it nice and new again, so we could bring in someone else. It was heavy work.” (Source)
She carried her feminism into auditions earlier in her career. She tells the Guardian in a 2012 interview:
“I’d perform my ass off, and the casting directors would be like, ‘You are perfect for this role, but can you wear something a little less shapeless?’” Her manager would bargain with her. She could wear a roll-neck jumper, he said – but could it at least be a fitted one? “I’m like, ‘Ugh, fine’, but these stupid conversations needed to be had, because unfortunately, don’t believe what they tell you, there’s very little imagination in Hollywood.” She hoots with laughter.
It annoyed her when casting directors asked to see her in more revealing clothes, she says, because she was naked in the film Alexander, “so go to any crazy, sick website and you’ll be able to look at it in slow motion if you like”. Does that bother her? “No, not at all, my point being: then don’t complain, ‘We don’t know what she really looks like.’ Are you kidding?! Do your research. ‘She looks a little fat right now’,” she says, recalling a message that filtered down from some rotten, deluded film executive. “Really? They’re called breasts … There was definitely a period for a couple of years where I rebelled against it. It probably cost me a lot of really big jobs, but I was just so angry.”
And Dawson carries her feminism into some of the roles she chooses. In a 2007 interview with her The Daily Mail says:
Rosario is fulfilling a desire to speak for women who normally don’t have a voice.
And I expect nothing less from a roll-deep woman.