Zoe Saldana climbs up the A-list with 'Colombiana'

Two years ago she played a warrior princess in Avatar, and today Zoe Saldana is back, as different kind of warrior, fighting for the vengeance of her slain parents, in Colombiana.

In the film Saldana plays Cataleyna Restrepo, a young woman who after witnessing the murder of her parents as a child in Bogota, Colombia, grows up to become a stone-cold assassin. She works for her uncle as a hitman by day, but in her personal time engages in vigilante killings that she hopes will lead her to her ultimate target: the mobster responsible for her parents’ death.

Colombiana was conceived by French filmmaker Luc Besson, the writer of the 2008 action hit film Taken. Besson is also known for his films featuring strong, powerful, but emotionally damaged women, particularly La Femme Nikita, Léon and The Fifth Element. Saldana’s role in this project follows the similar template of a Besson flick, hitting all the beats of a revenge film, but is also very compelling and emotionally moving.

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In a recent interview for the September issue of Latina magazine, the film star with Dominican and Puerto Rican roots, revealed that the preparation and filming of the movie was intense, and nearly propelled her to having a total breakdown.

“I was in Paris training for Colombiana, sitting in my hotel room, and I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stay awake. I must have slept for an entire month. It took me the rest of the year, even as I was working and shooting Colombiana, to pick myself up.”

Saldana’s dedication to the role shines though on-screen. Her fight scenes are adrenaline pumping, tireless with an element of reality, and will leave moviegoers with the desire to walk out of theaters and take up some sort of martial arts class.

Raw behind-the-scenes pre-production footage, has been circulating online showing Saldana training with the LAPD, weight training, studying Krava Maga and gun handling preparing for the role.

Slideshow: Butt-kicking women of color on big screen

During a behind-the-scenes vignette, Saldana says “You can expect raw kick a** fighting scenes, that are going to blow everybody away because they are not a specific form of martial arts, combat training or whatever. Their just two human beings, trying to get out of a situation with at least one of them alive. I didn’t want the fighting scenes to be flexible or forgiving because it was a woman that was fighting a man.”

Their are very few action films that come out featuring female leads compared to those that start male movie stars. And the number of women of color in lead action roles in Hollywood are even smaller. Why is Hollywood so reluctant to give minority women these types of heroic and fierce parts?

In the 1970s Pam Grier was synonymous with her legendary action roles in movies like Foxy Brown and Coffy. Grier appeared again as an action heroine in Quentin Tarantino’s critically acclaimed Jackie Brown, a film that partly paid homage to her 70s blaxplotation movies.

Following her Academy Award for Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry heated up the screen as a sexy Bond girl in the 2002 blockbuster Die Another Day. In the movie she played Giacinta ‘Jinx’ Johnson, the tough yet sassy secret agent that just so happens to look great in a bikini while emerging from the ocean. Berry described her character Jinx as a “fashion-forward modern and the next step in the evolution of women in the Bond movies.”
In 2003, speculation arose that a spin-off film, centered on the character Jinx was in the works, however a year later, with a Jinx script in place, MGM completely pulled the plug on the project. According to People, Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson cited creative differences as the reason for shelving the spin-off idea.

Berry took on another action role with the 2004’s Catwoman, which was poorly received, both critically and at the box office. Today the film sits comfortably on movie critic Roger Ebert’s list of “most hated films.”

Aside from her role in Drumline, Saldana has rarely been seen in films featuring an all black cast. She has instead been largely featured as the token actress of color in predominately white casts of films like Star Trek.

In an interview for September’s issue of Ebony, Saldana was candid in her disapproval of actresses of color claiming a racial bias in the present day film casting process of Hollywood.

“When you don’t get a part, it is for a reason, and these pieces will fall into place soon…. We have a black president right now, so why the f**k would I sit down and talk about how hard it is for black women in Hollywood when there’s a black president in my country?,” said Saldana

Saldana went on to describe how her heritage fits in with her film roles.

“I’ve played a Na’vi, and I’ve played an African-American, and I’m African-Latino. Artists, we have to be chameleons. If the show fits, by all means put it on.”

In Colombiana, Saldana got to take on a role which hits close to home as a Latina actress, and allows her to deliver lines in English and Spanish.

Those looking for Saldana’s love interest to be of color, shouldn’t hold their breath. Colombiana weaves in an element of romance with Cataleyna’s on again off again affairs with Danny, a Caucasian artist, played by Michael Vartan.

Besson says that he did not write this film with Saldana in mind, but knew almost immediately that she was the best fit for the character.

“Zoe is not only beautiful, she is also intelligent and good-hearted; she is filled with humanity and a great willpower. Zoe was for me the best choice, because we have not seen yet what she is capable of — even after Avatar, where her incredible acting was covered by special effects,” said Besson.

Saldana has been a steady working actress since her first film role in Center Stage in 2000, but has yet to have a firm place on Hollywood’s A-list of actors. This weekend she might just have her big break with her leading role in this film about vengeance and love.

The tagline for the Colombiana is “Revenge Is Beautiful.” And for those that said Saldana can’t make it on the A-list this weekend on big screens across the nation she will have her beautiful revenge.