Rosario Dawson: From Tenement to Tinseltown
By Dennis Hensley
Journey to Fame
Dawson's journey to fame began by accident at age 15, while she was sitting on the front stoop of her apartment building. She was talking with a bunch of friends when director Larry Clark, in the neighborhood to scout locations, spotted her ‑- and cast her as the dirty-talking Ruby in his boundary-busting film about teenagers and sex, Kids. "It's not like my mom wasn't aware," Dawson says of her raw portrayal in the film. "My mother got pregnant with me when she was 15. The only thing she didn't want me to do on-screen was smoke a cigarette." More films followed, including Spike Lee's He Got Game, Ed Burns's Sidewalks of New York and Ethan Hawke's Chelsea Walls.
Given that Dawson is Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban on her mother's side and Irish and Native American on her father's (her parents are divorced), one might wonder whether race has been an issue when it comes to landing roles. "Sometimes there's resistance, sometimes there isn't," says Dawson. "It's interesting to see what kinds of scripts I'm sent, what directors think I can pull off. When I got the role of Roxane in Alexander, some people got really upset, like, 'Why did they hire a black girl?' Meanwhile, my friend who is Afghani said, 'You look just like my family, so I don't understand what people are so upset about.' Sometimes people say weird things, like, 'I don't understand why she just doesn't say she's black ‑- Puerto Ricans aren't that brown!'" Dawson sighs. "[Race] wasn't an issue for me until I got older and it became an issue for other people." She credits her family for giving her a deeply rooted sense of self-confidence. "My grandparents and my mom are very powerful people in terms of their values and self-worth," she says. "I've never been told any reason why I couldn't do anything I wanted."