Zoe Saldaña Says ‘Emilia Pérez’ Film Celebrates Mexico’s Culture

Zoe Saldaña is giving fresh insight about Emilia Pérez in France!

During a 2024 Cannes Film Festival press conference that PEOPLE attended on Sunday, May 19, the actress, 45, opened up about how her new movie showcases Mexican culture.

“I’ve been living in Los Angeles for about 20 years. Mexican culture is something that’s dear to my heart. I’ve lots of family still there,” said Saldaña, who is at the festival promoting Emilia Pérez with Selena Gomez, Édgar Ramírez and other costars.

Selena Gomez, Édgar Ramírez, Zoe Saldaña, Jacques Audiard, Karla Sofía Gascón and Adriana Paz at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19.

Dominique Charriau/WireImage

The Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy actress mentioned the injustices and corruption in Mexico, but noted, “I believe that’s true of all countries in the world, and I still have this great respect and admiration for Mexican culture.”

In Emilia Pérez, Saldaña portrays Rita Moro Castro, an undervalued lawyer at a large firm who is hired to help cartel leader Manitas secretly complete a sex change operation to “become the woman he has always dreamt of being” as Manitas nears retirement.

The upcoming movie –  directed and written by Jacques Audiard – is described as a musical thriller and stars Spanish actress Karla Sofía Gascón, who is trans, as Manitas and Gomez as Manitas’ wife Jessi.

Saldaña praised Audiard’s work on the film, saying she’s “very grateful” that he “used a lot of creative liberty and freedom” to tell the story.

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“He has this story which depicts a number of things that you can find in Mexico and which need to be improved in other countries,” Saldaña said. “But he celebrates the culture, which is so beautiful, and so rich, and so artistic.”

Zoe Saldaña at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival on May 18.


Emilia Pérez made its world premiere at the festival on Saturday, May 18, where it received a standing ovation that lasted nearly 10 minutes, a moment that made Gomez cry and wipe away her tears.

At the press conference, costar Gascón also championed trans rights.

“People who are trans are often the object of insults or death threats simply because they exist,” Gascón said. “In Mexico, we use very harsh phrases when addressing trans people, often people can be very gross. It is a real issue.“

“I think trans people should be treated like just anybody else. I’m no better, no worse than somebody else,” Gascón added. “We have to continue fighting for our rights. We have to continue with our lives. … We’re allowed to change it because we want to, we can make decisions about our own body. I wanted to be a trans woman.“

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Gascón went on to discuss the character she plays in the film.

“What I think is very important in this character [Manitas] and in the film made by Jacques is the following: It’s quite clear that trans people, we trans people are just people. We’re trans people, we’re people,” Gascón said. “It’s not as though we were a sort of a stain on the world. We are as human as others, and we have existed since the beginning of the world.“

Following the movie’s release, Saldaña is expected to star in the next two Avatar movies, set for release in 2025 and 2029, respectively. The actress is also raising her three sons, twins Cy Aridio and Bowie Ezio, 9, and Zen Anton Hilario, 7, whom she shares with her husband Marco Perego-Saldaña.

In a 2023 interview with PEOPLE, the actress spoke about raising her boys without gender-specific roles and teaching them “to honor women and to celebrate women.” She said it’s “very important” to teach them to “honor themselves, their femininity, to celebrate their feminine self as well.”

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