How ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ star Xochitl Gomez fought her trolls

Xochitl Gomez had puffy cheeks, freshly swollen from the extraction of her wisdom teeth, as she and her mother drove for hours to a Target earlier this spring so the teenage actor could first take stock of his impressive career under fluorescent lights.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m an action figure!’ and within two minutes I started crying,” says Gomez. “I hope kids see me as an action figure. Something about it is pretty crazy and pretty cool, and it’s not lost on me how meaningful it is. I remember holding it in my hand and freaking out – I was just so proud to have it.”

The feat came earlier this year after she joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe with her debut as queer Latina superhero America Chavez in the Benedict Cumberbatch-directed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It’s a role she didn’t think was in her cards. When her mom sent her to martial arts classes years ago to add action skills to her resume, Gomez scoffed, “I always told her, ‘I’ll never be a superhero, I’ll never be in a blockbuster. That’s just never going to happen. I never will be.’ … I was so wrong. It’s just so crazy how much it’s changed since then.

“To be literally in one of the greatest franchises of all time is honestly a dream come true. And since I’m playing someone queer and Latina in a superhero movie, I hope that kind of representation gets normalized. Part of it was a little intimidating, just because I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure to be capitalized on, like “You’re the next big thing” or “You’re the Latino superhero!”. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.”

Before joining the film, which has grossed more than $900 million worldwide since its release in May, Gomez had mostly appeared in small roles in short films and TV shows like “Gentefied” and “Raven’s Home” — until her big one in 2020 Lead actors broke through in another fictional universe with a loyal following: The Baby-Sitters Club.

Gomez fondly reflects on her brief stint as Dawn Schafer in the Netflix adaptation of the popular book series. But the experience of reinventing the character, who is blonde and blue-eyed in the books, opened Gomez’s eyes to the power of what she represented — and the backlash it could generate.

“This role meant everything to me,” she says. “It was something we five girls did together. We all don’t really have that much credit, we’re all kind of on the same level and doing interviews for the first time, stuff like that. And it was just so great that they did Dawn Latina. But I didn’t really expect all the backlash. It was just a little crazy for me. I thought, ‘We should celebrate this and instead I get hate for it?’ I remember sitting there and just reading everything. It was just non-stop.”

How did she deal with it?

“I’ll tell you how I dealt with it: I created an account on Twitter and Facebook and did this [fictional person’s] Names like Sarah Parker. I just started typing and I said, ‘This is crazy. We should celebrate this moment.” I said something like that just to make me feel like someone would stand up for me. I just had to have a voice, someone to stand up for me.”

Speaking via Zoom from her home in Echo Park, the 16-year-old shares she’s been in student mode between projects. As part of her self-study, she is currently reading Animal Farm: “It’s intense.” She gets livelier when the conversation relates to what she loves about the performance.

“I love developing a character and discovering new parts of a character,” she says. “The kind of projects I tend to do are independent projects like this. I just love stories with levels and characters that surprise you with something completely unexpected and characters that break with stereotypes. I’ve been scouted for characters that aren’t necessarily Latino coded, and it’s amazing to see more progressive castings that aren’t just interested in me being Latina.”

She hopes to have the same variety of projects in her career as Scarlett Johansson or Sebastian Stan.

“They’ve been involved in larger budget projects, but have also managed to do smaller indie projects,” she says. “I’d love to follow in those footsteps… I feel like maybe a period film could be cool.”

A precocious child with busy parents – her father works in construction while her mother is a set designer in Hollywood – Gomez’s energy found an outlet in musical theater by age 5. She appeared in 22 full-length musical productions beginning with The Little Mermaid as one of Ariel’s sisters and found a calling as a performer. She started working in front of the camera at the age of 10.

“A part of me misses musical theater so much,” she says. “And I think I would do it again in a heartbeat. But I do not know. i just saw [‘Stranger Things’] Gaten Matarazzo on Dear Evan Hansen and I spoke to him and I was like, ‘Yo, how was it?’ He was like, ‘It just takes a lot of time and you have to put a lot of energy into it.’ I remember spending hours rehearsing and singing. And to keep that kind of stage energy going two or three hours a night is a lot of work. So if anything, I’d probably do a screen musical adaptation for now.”

Gomez’s Hollywood ambitions continue behind the camera. She’s built her confidence in directing by co-directing music videos – she recently completed artist GiaNina Paolantonio’s ‘Runner Up’ and plans to start work on another soon.

The goal, she says, is “to take ownership of how the stories and viewpoints are formed,” including what she hopes will be a short film or even an indie feature.

“There’s so much more I want to do,” says Gomez. “Actions speak louder than words, and just doing it is just how you do it. Nothing will stop you unless you stop yourself. … It’s a lot because I’m literally behind in school right now. I think, ‘I have to set my priorities [straight],’ like two weeks of homework.”

However, that doesn’t mean that homework is her only priority. After traveling to the White House for a Hispanic Heritage Month event this fall, she has been preparing sci-fi thriller Ursa Major, in which she will star opposite Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the story of a mother and daughter , struggling to survive on an Earth-like planet. Production begins next year in British Columbia: “I love it up there,” she says. “I have some friends from the ‘Babysitters Club’ up there. And I can spend my weekends having fun, bowling and like we used to do.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-11-03/xochitl-gomez-america-chavez-marvel-vanguardia How ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ star Xochitl Gomez fought her trolls

Sarah Ridley

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