camila mendes upgrade interview
Latin Times/Alicia Civita

MIAMI - Camila Mendes is on a mission: to amplify Brazilian representation in Hollywood. This Brazilian-American actress is not just showcasing her talent on screen but also passionately advocating for the visibility of her community and heritage in the industry. In every role she takes on, every script she touches, Mendes ensures, when possible, that the essence of her culture is woven into the narrative.

Her commitment goes beyond personal achievement; it's about creating a lasting impact and expanding the space for Brazilian stories and voices in global cinema.

This mission is evident in the conscious decisions behind her role as Ana Santos, the main character of "Upgraded," the movie she starred in and executive produced, now Prime Video's most watched film in 98 countries.

A Latina with a Brazilian touch

Mendes sat with the Latin Times to talk about the movie and how she garnered enough power to have a strong voice and tell her story the way she wanted it.

"I just have also been very clear on who I am and how I want to be seen," said the 29-year-old actress, raised on the outskirts of Miami. "I am a Latina actress of Brazilian background. I am on the same journey as other Latinos in Hollywood. We are educating people about who we are, about our different cultures, and the beautiful nuances that all of us bring to the table."

For Mendes, there are many ways to combine projects with personal missions. An example is the name of her character in "Upgraded." "I actually did suggest the name of Ana Santos. I wanted to give her a last name that felt like it could be from any Latin country, that it could be a Brazilian last name," Mendes explained.

Mendes delved into the complexities of being a Brazilian in Hollywood, a journey marked by both challenges and triumphs. She discussed the industry's narrow lens on Latino identity, revealing her own struggles with fitting into these preconceived notions. She has been told she didn't look like a Latina. Mendes heard it enough to wonder where she would fit.

"I think when I said that I didn't feel Latina enough, it was more through the eyes of Americans, I think, and the eyes of the industry," she confessed. However, Mendes maintains a strong sense of self, fueled by her Brazilian heritage. "I've always felt Latina enough within myself," she said. "And, as a Brazilian I have the same issues than actors from Argentina, Chile, or Mexico have. We are always explaining that being Latino isn't an ethnicity."

The world of 'Upgraded'

Ana Santos is a broke, auction house assistant who, after scoring a major work trip to London, falls into posing as an art world V.I.P. She meets an art heir. They fall in love, and office and romantic drama ensue. The film borrows enough from "The Devil Wears Prada," and "Emily in Paris," that it becomes predictable.

The saving grace of "Upgraded" is Mendes. Her performance is a perfect mix of fun and depth. Both Veronica and Betty, to take an image from her breakout series "Riverdale."

Her involvement in "Upgraded" extended beyond acting to influencing the script and overall direction of the film. "I read the script, my manager sent it to me. I read it and loved it, but I felt it could be more," Mendes recalled, so she transformed it. She was right.

Looking Ahead

Mendes showed excitement about her next project on Prime Video, "Música." This is a significant milestone in her career, as it marks the first time she will portray a Brazilian-American character on screen.

"It's probably one of the most unique projects I've ever been on," she said, indicating a shift towards more diverse and unconventional roles.

The rom-com follows a young man (Rudy Mancuso, star and director), who suffers from synesthesia, a condition that plagues him with music in his head. He soon has to come to terms with an uncertain future while balancing love, family, and Brazilian culture in Newark, New Jersey. Mendes plays his romantic partner.

"Música" is scheduled to be released by Amazon Prime Video on April 4, 2024.

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