'Empire' Star Jamila Velazquez Dealt With Typecasting, But She Didn’t Let It Keep Her Down
In the entertainment industry, there is an ongoing struggle when it comes to women scoring worthy roles and achieving equal pay for their work in comparison to their male counterparts. As much of an issue as this is for all women, there's no doubt that it is even more of an unfortunate uphill battle for women of color. As a testament to that, while chatting with Bustle, Empire star Jamila Velazquez reflects on her journey as a Latin actor being typecast based on her ethnicity and the color of her skin.
It took the 20-year-old talented singer a long time to find parts that spoke to her and gave her a bigger platform as a performer. "When I got sent to my agency I was about 15 and it took me two years to really book a guest starring role and that was for Law & Order [SVU]," she reflects about playing a sex slave in the NBC drama.
Velazquez quickly realized that the roles she got auditions for or that she eventually won were pretty much all the same. "A lot of the roles I was always offered and that I always auditioned for were just very Latin stereotypes like, '16 and pregnant,' 'prostitutes,' and stuff like that," the actor notes.
As frustrating as it was for her, Velazquez kept pushing on and continued to accept and audition for the stereotypical roles. She explains,
It's not that I necessarily turned those roles down, because I would still audition for them and try to get them, but it was difficult because I was like, "What is my career gonna be?" because I don't only want to be typecast just because I'm brown and have black hair.
Eventually, she did find herself a few substantial parts, including starring on the former ABC Family's Twisted as Sarita, but that wasn't the end of Velazquez's audition struggles. "It was definitely difficult, but it took two years to book something and then after I booked Law & Order and Twisted it took like another two years to to finally book Empire, which has definitely given me a way bigger platform than I could've ever imagined," she says.
There's no doubt that she's made a name for herself on the successful FOX drama. Not only has she showcased her talents as an actor, but she's also been able to boast her singing skills. She'll also continue to shine as when she guest stars on Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black, where she plays a childhood friend of one of the inmates in a flashback.
Velazquez clearly hasn't given up and part of that just might have something do with Cher. Yep, that Cher. She gushes,
I always say Cher is my career inspiration. I love everything she's done for herself. You know, she started with Sonny and Cher, then she did the Cher show, she was doing music, and then she broke into movies and still did music. She was just a busy, hardworking woman and that's definitely what I want to be.
For those, especially young women, who have struggled like Velazquez, she has some advice: "Always let your work speak for itself and to work hard and do whatever you can to better yourself."
I think it's clear that, for her, this advice has paid off.