Latin and Hispanic actresses have been getting it done for decades. Ever since Dolores del Río made her mark in the 1920s, Latinx stars have been pushing boundaries. But it’s only recently they have gotten the recognition they deserve. The world is finally appreciating the diversity in Hollywood and these actresses are being praised for their contributions.
Despite these positive steps forward, there is still a lack of diversity in the entertainment world. The 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report states that just 4.6 percent of movie acting roles in 2019 were given to Latinx actors and actresses. This is a seriously low number considering how many talented Latin and Hispanic actresses there are right now.
So to celebrate these incredibly talented women, here are 16 of the most amazing Latin and Hispanic actresses you should know about.
1. Dolores del Rio
Dolores del Rio is considered the first Mexican star to crossover in the US. Recognized as one of the most beautiful actresses of her time, del Rio was a massive star of the silent film era in the 20s. The introduction of talkies helped solidify her acting abilities as she dominated cinema in the 30s. While films such as Bird of Paradise, Flying Down to Rio, and Madame Du Barry might not be familiar, they were big hits for del Río during her time in the States.
When her star began to fade, del Rio headed back to Mexico and revitalized her career. She was a huge part of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema and helped put Mexican cinema on the map. She spent the latter part of her career performing in both Mexico and America, crafting a legacy that still influences many Hispanic actresses today.
2. Salma Hayek
Mexican American actress Salma Hayek is a superstar. She has been in the movie business for over 30 years. Hayek got her start on the telenovela Teresa. It wasn’t long until Hayek caught the attention of American director Robert Rodriguez. He first cast her in made for television movie Roadracer. She followed this with roles in Rodriguez’s cult action hit Desdperado and vampire classic From Dusk to Dawn. This film is best remembered for Hayek’s exotic dance with a snake, which helped get her noticed by mainstream directors.
Notable roles in Studio 54, Dogma, Wild Wild West, and Traffic followed. But Hayek truly became an icon with her performance in Frida. This biographical drama about Frida Kahlo cemented Hayek as one of the greatest Hispanic actresses of our generation. Since then she has appeared in everything from kids flick Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and comedy Grown Ups to musical Across the Universe and action hit The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Hayek is also a bit of a social media star, often posting risque photos that get lots of attention.
3. Jennifer Lopez
J-Lo is the triple threat. The New York entertainer can act, sing, and dance. She has done so much to advance the representation of Latin and Hispanic actresses and musicians. Over her 30-year career, Lopez has shifted between movie star and pop star with ease. Films like Anaconda, Out of Sight, and Selene (where she became the first Latin actress to earn $1 million) demonstrated her acting abilities and established her as a viable leading lady.
Not content with just being an actress, Lopez launched a music career that is arguably as successful as her time in film. She’s had seven top ten albums (including the #1 Billboard chart-topper J.Lo) and a string of mega singles, such as If You Had My Love, Love Don’t Cost a Thing, I’m Real, and Ain’t It Funny. Her music hustle helped with the Latin pop movement of the 90s that is still be seen today with the likes of Bad Bunny, Kali Uchis, and Puerto Rican star Rauw Alejandro becoming hugely popular.
4. Gina Rodriguez
Born to Puerto Rican parents, Gina Rodriguez is part of the new breed of Latin American actresses who are all over our screens. Like many in Hollywood, she first had small roles on several TV shows before being cast in Jane the Virgin. This was her big break, with the show going for five seasons and putting Rodriguez in the spotlight. She has since gone on to star in big-budget several films but it’s her philanthropic efforts that have really taken center stage. Rodriguez is involved with a number of charities and was formerly a member of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Board of Directors.
5. Rita Moreno
With a career spanning seven decades, it’s fair to say Rita Moreno has been a success. The Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and singer has appeared in some of the biggest movies of all time. Singin’ in the Rain, The King and I, and Carnal Knowledge are just three of her best known films. Moreno also starred in the original and recent 2021 remake of West Side Story and hit HBO prison drama Oz.
If you need any further proof of her status as one of the greats, take a look at all the awards Moreno has won. She is one of only 24 people to claim the Triple Crown of Acting. This means she has won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. She’s also won a Grammy Award and was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. In short, when it comes to Latin actresses who have had an impact, none quite compare.
6. America Ferrera
While she has appeared in some big films, such as the How To Train Your Dragon franchise, America Ferrera is best known for her work on the small screen. The Los Angeles-born Ferrera got her start on the doco series Independent Lens before finding sustained success with the comedy Ugly Betty. The show was a moderate success and got canned after just four seasons, but became a cult favorite once off the air. Next up Ferrera starred in the sitcom Superstore. While the first season didn’t impress critics, the show quickly found its footing and is now one of the highest-rated shows on Rotten Tomatoes. Although Superstore finished last year with its sixth season, Ferrera’s star continues to rise, with the talented actress playing a main role in the hit series WeCrashed.
7. Rosie Perez
Younger audiences might only be familiar with Rosie Perez thanks to her role in the surprise hit drama Flight Attendant. The rest of you will most likely remember her incredible work in 90s classics Do the Right Thing and White Man Can’t Jump. Whichever group you fall into, there is no denying Perez has a commanding presence when on screen.
Perez is another actress on this list with Puerto Rican parents. Born and raised in New York, she studied in Los Angeles and was a choreographer for several famous artist’s music videos, such as Janet Jackson, LL Cool J, and Diana Ross. She has had a varied movie career, often choosing interesting and compelling roles. Pérez was nominated for an Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress in 1994 for her role in Fearless. She has also starred in hits such as Riding in Cars with Boys, Pineapple Express, and Birds of Prey.
8. Sofía Vergara
Sofía Vergara received acclaim for her role as Gloria on the hit sitcom Modern Family. During its 11-season run, she was a mainstay as the loud and outspoken wife of Pritchett patriarch Jay, a man much older than her. She received much praise for her role and was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, four Primetime Emmy Awards, and eleven Screen Actors Guild Awards.
As well as TV, Vergara has made a name for herself in movies, starring in Machette Kills, Chef, and New Year’s Eve. Vergara is the first Colombian to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is married to True Blood heartthrob Joe Manganiello. She’s also a judge on America’s Got Talent.
9. Penelope Cruz
Hispanic actress Penelope Cruz is one of the biggest names to come out of Spain. Her 30+ year career has included roles in both English and Spanish that have seen Cruz win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Her filmography is extremely diverse and runs the gauntlet of genres. Some of Cruz’s best Spanish language films include Live Flesh, Volver, and Parallel Mothers. When it comes to her English language flicks, Vanilla Sky, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, All the Pretty Horses, and the previously mentioned Vicky Cristina Barcelona are all fantastic.
As well as acting, Cruz has been a spokesperson for L’Oréal since 2006, earning a reported $2 million per year. She has also worked with several other big-name fashion brands and is an advocate of PETA. After many years living in Hollywood, she and her husband, Javier Bardem, recently moved back to Spain to live and raise their two children.
10. Michelle Rodriguez
Raised by a mother from the Dominican Republic and a father from Puerto Rico, Michelle Rodriguez has been a mainstay of the Fast and Furious franchise. Rising to fame with her debut performance in Girl Fight, it was the Texan’s role as Letty Ortiz in The Fast and the Furious that catapulted her to stardom.
She has featured in seven of nine Fast and Furious flicks and is confirmed to appear in the final two movies in the long-running series. Besides those films, Rodriguez has had notable roles in Resident Evil, Machete and Machete Kills, Avatar, and Widows.
11. Stephanie Beatriz
Argentinian actress Stephanie Beatriz’s early career involved small roles in a host of American cop shows and crime dramas before she secured a role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Although a cop show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a comedy, with the series allowing Beatriz to demonstrate her comedic chops. Her character, Rosa Diaz, is a hard-hitting detective who helps anchor the show alongside Andy Samberg’s immature Jake Peralta.
Along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Beatriz voiced the character of Gina Cazador on BoJack Horseman and Batwoman in Catwoman: Hunted, while also appearing in the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights.
12. Anya Taylor-Joy
Most people will recognize Anya Taylor-Joy from the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. While exceptional in her role as chess grandmaster Beth Harmon, Taylor-Joy si brilliant in all her films. The American-born Argentinian actress is a revelation in horror The Witch, mesmerizing in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, and scene-stealing in Viking epic The Northman.
Although young, Taylor-Joy has already established herself as one of the world’s best Latin actresses born in the United States. With upcoming roles in David E. Russell’s period drama Amsterdam, alongside the likes of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Robert de Niro, Zoe Saldaña, and Timothy Olyphant, and as a young Furisoa in the next Mad Max film, the future is bright for Taylor-Joy.
13. Rosario Dawson
Rosario Dawson was discovered by photographer Larry Clark and director Harmony Korine at the age of 15. The two saw her sitting on her front porch and thought she would be perfect for the pair’s film Kids. While controversial, the film kick-started Dawson’s film career. The attractive New Yorker has appeared in everything from low-budget indies to blockbuster action films. No matter the film or TV series, Dawson is always an alluring presence who brings depth and reality to the characters she portrays.
Some of her best roles include Lala Bonilla in He Got Game, Valerie Brown in Josie and the Pussycats, Naturelle Riviera in 25th Hour, Gail in Sin City, and Claire Temple in a host of Netflix Marvel series. She is also the voice of Wonder Woman in eight animated movies featuring the Amazonian warrior.
14. Natalie Martinez
Coming from Cuban ancestry, Natalie Martinez is another of the new breed of Latinx actresses taking the world by storm. Before acting, she starred in several music video clips for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Sean Paul. Her first gig was on the soap Fashion House. This led to roles in telenovela Saints & Sinners, police procedurals Detroit 1-8-7 and CSI: NY, and Jason Statham actioner Death Race.
While she has acted in more than a dozen movies, her bread and butter is television. Shows such as Kingdom and Under the Dome helped increase her profile, with her roles in The Stand, Ordinary Joe, and The Fugitive the best of her career so far.
15. Zoe Saldana
Born in New Jersey and raised in the Dominican Republic, Zoe Saldana fell in love with dance at a young age. After realizing a career in ballet was not for her, she turned to theater upon return to the United States. She quickly found herself cast in the ballet-themed teen drama Center Stage. While she had moderate success in films like The Terminal and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, things went to another level in 2009. That year Saldana appeared in the reboot of Star Trek and James Cameron’s Avatar, two of the year’s biggest flicks. Saldana’s film career has only gone from strength to strength since appearing in those films. Roles as Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers franchises have elevated her to superstar status.
16. Roselyn Sanchez
Puerto Rican Roselyn Sanchez has done it all. Acting, singing, dancing, and modeling are all part of her skill set. Hailing from Latin America, Sanchez’s most notable role was in the police procedural Without a Trace. She appeared in the show’s final four seasons before it came to an end. She is currently starring in Fantasy Island, a sequel to the 70s show of the same name.
While her film career isn’t as stacked, she’s appeared in some much loved movies. Sanchez was in Rush Hour 2 and 3, war film Act of Valor, and cult classic Captain Ron. Sanchez is another incredible example of the amazing Latin and Hispanic actresses making their mark.