Zoë Saldana Takes on Aging and Racial Discrimination in Hollywood: 'By 30, You're Old!'

"I'm not going to be a part of projects where female roles feel irrelevant," the Star Trek actress tells PEOPLE

Photo: James Devaney/GC Images

Zoë Saldana isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in.

“I think I would speak up on anything that feels unjust,” Saldana, 38, tells PEOPLE while promoting Star Trek Beyond. “I don’t consider myself to be an opinionated person, I just feel that I’m an active global citizen. I would speak up in favor of any entity, any system, any cause that is not well-represented, and I don’t feel like artists of color or women are given a proper space to grow.

“It’s obvious that our system is broken,” she continues. “I’m working towards trying to fix it by making decisions based on the principles that I believe in.” That firm belief comes out in the roles Saldana chooses.

“I’m not going to be a part of projects where the female roles feel irrelevant, because it’s an inaccurate reflection of the women that I’ve been raised by or that I’ve seen around me or that I admire,” the mother of twin boys says. “Maybe I’m a geek at heart, but I like martial arts, I like heist movies, I like suspense thrillers and science fiction.”

Saldana has carved out a distinct spot in Hollywood as a big-time action star with films like Guardians of the Galaxy, all three Star Trek films and Avatar.

“Whenever I feel that I’m in an environment that just doesn’t feel authentic and it feels contrived and fake, I don’t like being a part of it,” she says. “As women, we have so many limitations. If you’re an actress, by 30, you’re old. Look at the trailers – you’ll see how old the male actors are getting, and how young their costars are. It’s embarrassing!”

The only element of being a franchise leading lady that she doesn’t love is the length of production. “If anything, the one thing that I feel bummed about is that these films can be sometimes a little too time-consuming to make,” she says. James Cameron’s next three Avatar films, for example, won’t wrap until 2022.

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“It keeps me from doing other projects, but I’m happy because it wasn’t a box that people put me in,” she says. “I put myself there. I keep following my heart and if that’s going to carry a certain judgment by others, I mean I couldn’t give two s— about that.”

When dealing with all kinds of discrimination, Saldana says, “We have to start with ourselves.” She adds, “The thing that we have to deal with is that there is a lack of education, a lack of intellectuality about this subject and we have to find a way to handle it properly. It’s not through complaints and loud noises and violence, it’s through education.

“It’s about [saying], ‘What are we teaching our kids?’ These kids are going to turn into fathers and mothers one day, and then what are they going teach their kids? We have to fix it at the root.”

Saldana’s not going to stop questioning injustices in the industry and in the world at large.

“It’s not just my professional life, I’m the same way everywhere. I mean, you should talk to my husband,” she says with a laugh. “If anything, he would appreciate it if I kept quiet a little bit, but I’m not going to do that.

“I’m not going to be who anybody else wants me to be just because they are too insecure or they are too selfish to share a space. I know where I belong and I belong wherever I want to be, and I’m going to speak with that conviction.”

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