Born America Georgina Ferrera, April 18, 1984, in Los Angeles, CA. Education: Theater and international-relations major at the University of Southern California, 2003—.
Addresses: Home—Los Angeles, CA.
Actress in television, including: Touched by an Angel, 2002; Gotta Kick It Up (movie), 2002; $5.15/Hr. (movie), 2004; Plainsong (movie), 2004. Film appearances include: Real Women Have Curves, 2002; Darkness Minus Twelve, 2004; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, 2005; Lords of Dogtown, 2005; How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, 2005; 3:52, 2005; Steel City, 2006.
Awards: (With cast) Special jury prize for acting, Sundance Film Festival, for Real Women Have Curves, 2002.
America Ferrera broke the mold for Latina film stars thanks to her acclaimed performance in 2002's Real Women Have Curves. Ferrera's figure perfectly embodied the title's sentiment, and she went on to appear in a number of major Hollywood projects, while still working toward her undergraduate degree at the University of Southern California. The daughter of Honduran immigrants, Ferrera is happy to serve as a role model for women of all shapes and colors, especially when she recalled her own formative years. "I went through a lot of self-doubt" in her younger days, she told Elizabeth Weitzman in Interview. "I never turned on the TV and saw a Latina woman with an average body."
Some of Ferrera's own biography echoes that of Ana, her character in Real Women Have Curves. She was born in 1984 in Los Angeles, the first of six children, and grew up in a single-parent household headed by a protective and determined mother. Unlike Ana's parent, however, the elder Ferrera was emphatic about the possibilities that higher education offered in the United States for her children. As Ferrera explained in an interview with Jamie Painter Young in Back Stage West, her mother had come north "for the sole purpose that my siblings and I could get an education, could have every opportunity in the business world, and whatever we wanted to pursue would be at our fingertips."
Ferrera lived up to those expectations by excelling in school. But she was also a talented stage performer in her after-school hours as a member of community and youth theater ensembles, and began auditioning for entertainment-industry roles at the age of 15, despite her mother's wariness. Ferrera endured numerous rejections, partly because of her less-than-lithe figure. "There was a point … where I auditioned for a year and never got a single callback, " she recalled in the Back Stage West interview with Young. "I started to question, 'What is wrong with me? Why don't they want me?' Either it breaks you completely or it makes you stronger."
Ferrera's first real role was a supporting one in a Disney Channel television movie in 2002, Gotta Kick It Up, and then she landed the lead in Real Women Have Curves. The movie was adapted from a play of the same name by Josefina Lopez, and cast Ferrera alongside veteran Latina actor Lupe Ontiveros as Carmen, her on-screen mother. Carmen rules over a Mexican-American family in East Los Angeles, and is adamant that her daughter forego college and join the seamstress staff along with her and Ana's older sister at a dress factory; Ana is heartbroken to think that she may have to turn down an Ivy League scholarship offer.
The story arc in Real Women Have Curves, some critics felt, was a predictably triumphant one—along with a subplot about celebrating the full-figured female form—but reviewers were nonetheless appreciative of its charms. Elvis Mitchell, writing in the New York Times, singled out Ferrera's debut achievement, calling her "a young actress who is at once prickly, self-confident, and transparent. When Ana is stimulated—angry, hurt, or excited—the skin under her eyes often goes dark, a blush that goes past radiant to radioactive." Entertainment Weekly writer Missy Schwartz also commended the new star for "radiating a sassy confidence and smart defiance rarely displayed on screen by a teenage girl."
Ferrera noted in interviews that there were similarities between the Real Women tale and her own life. The movie was filmed during her senior year of high school in Woodland Hills, California, and her mother had strong opinions about her future plans and which college she chose to attend. After graduating first in her class, Ferrera decided to delay college for a year in order to pursue her acting career. She landed parts in two television movies as well as roles in Darkness Minus Twelve, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a long-anticipated adaptation of a best-selling young-adult novel.
In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ferrera played one of a quartet of female friends forced to endure a summer-long separation. Though all are built differently, they decide to share a pair of jeans over their vacations by mailing them to one another. Ferrera's character, Carmen, goes to visit a father in another state whom she barely knows; another, Lena (Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls), visits her extended family in Greece and falls in love; Bridget (Blake Lively, an industry newcomer), heads to Mexico for soccer camp, while the fourth young woman, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia) stays at home, befriends a younger girl with a very real problem, and makes a film about her.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants did well at the box office, and resonated with the book's legions of fans. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly commended the entire cast and predicted that Ferrera would likely have an impressive career ahead of her in a variety of non-ethnic-slotted roles, but noted further that "the longer she goes on representing the interests of Hispanic Americans with such flair, and speaking out for young women who are totally at home in their full flesh, the greater the opportunity for women of all colors and sizes to see beauty on screen that looks like theirs."
Ferrera's next movie, Lords of Dogtown, opened on the same June day in 2005 as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. By then, she was deeply involved in her double major, theater and international relations, at the University of Southern California. She also made How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, released later that year, and was set to appear in two planned Sisterhood sequels. Her mother seemed to be coming to terms with her dual career goals, but Ferrera did tell Young in the Back Stage West interview that "I think every morning my mom waits for me to wake up and say, 'I'll be a doctor, ' because she wants security for me; she wants me to have a good life, and what I have had to do is prove to her that this is what the [good] life is for me."
Back Stage West, October 17, 2002, p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, December 20, 2002, p. 84; June 10, 2005, p. 40, p. 82.
Film Journal International, July 2005, p. 106.
Interview, October 2002, p. 108.
New Republic, November 11, 2002, p. 22.
New York Times, March 22, 2002.
Seattle Times, November 8, 2002, p. H22.
Teen People, September 1, 2002, p. 160.