Kara Young Talks Breakout Role in “I’m a Virgo” and Her Relationship With Latinidad

Matt Petit/Prime Video

    Image Source: Matt Petit/Prime Video

    “First and foremost, I’m a Black woman,” says Kara Young. She’s the two-time Tony nominee starring in Boots Riley’s “I’m a Virgo.” It’s a surrealist comedy about a 13-foot-tall Black man, played by Dominican-American actor Jharrel Jerome, coming of age in Oakland.

    “I’m from Harlem, you know, I’ve always been a Black girl,” Young tells POPSUGAR when asked about her Latinidad. Both of Young’s parents emigrated from Belize. “Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America. Yet, I have so much blood that is Indigenous [and] is Latin blood. So, it feels like a sticky conversation at times. But then also, sometimes I’m like, ‘I am Afro-Latina.'”

    For those not familiar with Belizean history, the small Central American country is nestled between Mexico and Guatemala. The people there were Mayan before Europeans arrived. Both Great Britain and Spain laid claim to the land, with the British eventually winning out. English is still the official language there and Spanish is the second. It’s also a place with a sizable and rich Black population, including Garifuna communities.

    All of this gives Young a complicated path to walk when it comes to negotiating her Latinidad. “I do feel like I represent Latinidad because Belize is in Central America. And then my answer will evolve. One day, I might be like, ‘Yeah, I am,’ and the next day, I might be like, ‘No, [I’m not Latina].'”

    Image Source: Arnold Turner/Getty Images for Prime Video

    But she is clear on other aspects of her identity – including her family legacy. Young shares that her great-grandmother is still alive at 105 years old. And her daughter, Young’s grandmother, “speaks of her Mayan and mestizo blood, speaks of the mixing of people, you know, ‘This one looked like this. And this person looked like this. And this person was really short. And this person was really tall. And this person had this color eyes.’ And so there’s a sort of map of how that mixing happened. And in Belize, it happened a lot,” Young recounts.

    And that’s not the only part of her identity she’s sure of. Young is also a proud New Yorker, crediting the city with making her a global citizen. “I grew up with a lot of Jewish kids. I grew up with a lot of Puerto Rican kids. I grew up with a lot of Dominican kids. My father worked in the restaurant industry, so a lot of his friends were Indian or Thai. My mom works in the healthcare industry. She was a physical therapist for 20 years at Harlem Hospital, and a lot of her colleagues were Filipina,” Young shares. “I feel so connected to these cultures at all times. So, when I’m asked the question about identity, I feel conflicted. But at the same time, I feel like I’m really a part of the world as a New Yorker.”

    Young’s global perspective informs her goals as an actress. “I hope at the end of the day that people really see each other as human beings – looking at people in the eyes and really accepting them,” she says regarding her “I’m a Virgo” character. “We all have a beating heart and we’re all living this life on this earth and we all deserve the basic human rights to live . . . [Let us] see each other in our light.”

    And not to spoil too much, but that’s basically the takeaway from the show, where Young plays Jones, a community organizer who may just have a superpower of her own. She’s a transformative public speaker, the type of orator who transports her audience into her mindscape, making them see her ideas as she explains them.

    “Jones is really trying to inform the people that they have more power than what they’ve been told,” says Young. “She’s intellectually powerful, but there’s this selfless part of the power. She belongs to everyone.” Over the course of the show, we see Jones organize rallies and protests, explaining the ways capitalism is hurting her community of Oakland and the ways it particularly demonizes Black communities like hers.

    Image Source: Courtesy of Prime Video

    In that role, Young is a stand-in for Boots Riley, the series creator and director. Cinephiles may know him as the writer/director of “Sorry to Bother You,” the Sundance selection starring LaKeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Hip-hop fans may know him from The Coup. And social justice folks will be familiar with Riley for his community work.

    Young knew she wanted to audition for “I’m a Virgo” upon just hearing his name. “I know about Boots. I know about his activism work. Following his entire career from the jump, his activism is in everything that he does, in his music, in the way that he organizes in his community. And he comes from a really legendary group of people who have been active in their communities for some time,” she shares. “He’s just one of the dopest creatives in cinema, in film and television now, and such a dynamic storyteller, really breaking the boundaries of what it means to tell a story and so boldly, so radically, so colorfully.”

    Young also cites “I’m a Virgo”‘s diverse team as a reason for the show’s success, name-dropping people like Tze Chun, Naima Ramos-Chapman, Whitney White, Marcus Gardley, and Michael R. Jackson, many of whom share Young’s background in theater. She’s proud of the stories they’ve told – before “I’m a Virgo” and during it. And Young hopes to keep challenging herself in this community of like-minded artists of color. “I’m learning,” she says of transitioning from stage to screen. “In both mediums, there’s just so much to learn. And there are so many paths to grow.”

    Here’s hoping Young’s opportunities only grow so we can continue to watch her represent Latinidad in all of its fluid, contradictory, and complex ways.

    Season one of “I’m a Virgo” is available to stream now on Prime Video.

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