Actress Francia Raisa talks Ana from “Grown-ish,” reflects on her strong female characters and advises how young marginalized women can speak out against stereotyping.
With empowering social media posts, a wide array of talents and an unwavering dedication to her craft, actress Francia Raisa is known by many viewers of Freeform’s Grown-ish to be an advocate for social justice.
Gaining traction for her roles of Ana Torres on the Black-ish spinoff series Grown-ish, Grace in Life-Size 2 and Adrian Lee on Secret Life of the American Teenager, Raisa has chosen roles throughout her career that depict confident female characters who are strong in their beliefs.
“It was my plan to have these type of roles and I believe I manifested it. The fact that it actually happened is kind of crazy to me,” she said. “When I was younger, I was auditioning for everything and I just booked the role of Adrian, it kind of just happened.”
Born in Los Angeles to parents of Honduran and Mexican descent, Raisa’s first language was Spanish. She observed the entertainment industry from an early age as her father was a radio personality and she fell in love with Spanish soap operas.
When Raisa decided to pursue acting, she began to audition for every opportunity she could find, landing roles in Bring it On: All or Nothing and several music videos while still in high school.
“As I’m older and growing in my career, I have been more conscious of the roles that I pursue, but originally growing up, I went out for everything,” Raisa said of her career beginnings.
Her characters now have more in common, with many of them conveying the internal struggles young women face through growing up. As she embarked into the entertainment industry at the age of sixteen, Raisa could relate to the pain and stress her popular characters felt when adjusting from adolescence to adult life.
“I think Adrian, Grace and Ana all have similar growing pains just in different situations. When I decided to pursue the entertainment industry, I was heavily influenced by the movie Thirteen. It’s also about young girls growing up. That’s when I made the decision that that’s the kind of content I wanted to do, even though I was auditioning for everything,” Raisa said.
Her first major television show part came in 2008 when she scored the main role of Adrian on ABC Family’s Secret Life of the American Teenager.
“I was really happy when I booked Adrian because I loved that as a troubled teenager she still wanted a higher education for herself. She just didn’t have parents guiding her on an emotional level. I was able to relate to that. It reminded me of the Thirteen path I had taken so I definitely related to Adrian a lot.”
Raisa currently stars on Freeform’s Grown-ish as Ana, a college student with firm religious and political beliefs who navigates through intimate and personal relationship struggles. Raisa refers back to her own past experiences when portraying Ana on the popular show.
“[Regarding] Ana, being older and knowing what it’s like to be nineteen and having growing pains, I was happy to go back in time and help her grow and bring that up to the screen. I didn’t have to do any research for that. I’m twelve years older than her and I’ve had that research through my life,” she said.
Raisa was drawn to the role, which also serves as a college experience for her due to its subject matter and plot. “I really wanted to work with Yara [Shahidi] and Kenya Barris and thought that was cool,” Raisa said. “I didn’t go to college so this is my college experience. I guess all-in-all that’s what drew me to it. I’m finally experiencing what college life is like.”
With her platform and social media presence, Francia Raisa has inspired over one million Instagram followers with her philanthropy and activism. She has advocated for equal pay and change regarding unjust immigration policies within this current presidential administration.
From Raisa’s social media posts to her outspokenness, many know her to be defiant of stereotypes Hollywood imposes upon Latina actresses. Latina and other marginalized women have long been underrepresented in major roles or depicted with stereotypes throughout Hollywood’s filmmaking history.
Raisa experienced this herself as a teenage actress when she was instructed to portray “hot” and “sexy” Latinas in order to further her career. It wasn’t until recent movements that the actress realized how long she had been typecast, and began calling attention to stereotypical instances in her recent projects.
“I decided to defy stereotypes honestly when women started talking, the #MeToo and Times Up movements happened, and when I started going to church and therapy,” Raisa said. “I started going to therapy about four or five years ago. It’s been a slow process in realizing that I can be myself and it’s okay, and actually speaking to other women in my position.”
Conversing with fellow Latina actresses helped Raisa find her own voice, and ultimately pay homage to her roots and heritage.
“Rita Moreno gave me advice a long time ago, she doesn’t even remember it, but I remember her advice,” Raisa said. “I also saw Eva Longoria the other day. Whenever there is an opportunity to get words of wisdom, I try to apply them rather than brush them off.”
From Latin culture fetishes to the stereotyping of Latina women, Hollywood’s undermining messages surrounding Latina women impacted Raisa, who grew up in the spotlight. Looking to fellow actresses in her community for inspiration, she found the strength and courage she is known so well for today.
“It came to a point where I felt crazy because I didn’t know who I was,” Raisa said. “I didn’t want to feel crazy anymore. Because of other women being brave I decided, okay, it’s time to be brave and figure out who the hell I am and stick to it.”
Raisa recently starred as the lead character, Grace in Life-Size 2, the Freeform 2018 sequel to the original 2003 film with Tyra Banks. When initially reading the script, Raisa vocalized her concerns regarding the way her character was portrayed in one particular scene.
“Originally when Grace was drunk, they had her drinking tequila and specified that it was tequila. It then would fall on the doll, and that’s what would bring her to life. I said to Tyra [Banks], it’s a little bit stereotypical that it’s tequila and I’m Latin. She was like, ‘oh I didn’t even think about that!’ and I was like, ‘yeah what if she’s just drunk and it doesn’t matter what kind of drink it is?’ and she said ‘okay.’ She’s such a girl’s girl and sometimes it is not intentional, she just thought it was funny. I was like, ‘it is funny but I would like to stay away from that,’ and she agreed.”
In a scene on Grown-ish, Raisa also spoke up about a joke written for her character Ana that she was uncomfortable being affiliated with.
“It’s just a matter of having conversations about it,” Raisa said. “There was an incident on Grown-ish where I had to say something and I felt like it was body-shaming. I understood it was a joke, I was just like ‘I just don’t want to do that,’ and they gave the line to someone else.”
Raisa stressed the importance of having conversations as an actress regarding stereotypes or typecasting, and women recognizing what they are uncomfortable with when performing.
“As far as these stereotypes, I think we’re in a generation where it’s almost expected to speak up,” Raisa said. “You don’t have to be angry, malicious or defensive. Just say, ‘hey I’m not comfortable doing this,’ and whatever their response is, go off of that. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘well this is kind of stereotypical.’ It’s all about how you deliver something, and come from a professional standpoint.”
Initially beginning her job searches while pursuing dance rather than acting, Raisa’s career has taken many different twists and turns. She imparted advice for young Latina and marginalized women pursuing careers in the entertainment industry who are underrepresented and will face stereotyping.
“One of the first things I’d say is to appreciate rejection. There is a lot of rejection in this industry, a lot of it. You almost have to like the rejection and accept it as protection,” Raisa said. “Know [what happens] is meant for you. As much as you want it, as much as you felt it was yours, I truly believe that the role that is yours will be yours. If [one is] just not meant to be, who knows why, it might be explained later. Maybe it will never be explained, but it was just not part of your journey.”
When asked what she would tell her sixteen-year-old self at the very beginning of her career, Raisa spoke about “losing the fire” within herself after facing rejection and feeling pressure to maintain a specific image.
“I almost forgot that fire in me. I want to tell her, don’t forget that fire in you and still find ways to stay in love with what you’re doing. Stay on the journey and do not be influenced by what people are telling you. One of the things that is the hardest in this business is people telling you that what you’re doing is not enough,” Raisa said.
More than a decade into her career, Raisa has starred in multiple television shows, films and projects, appearing in everything from The Mindy Project to CSI. After working extensively, Raisa says she now prioritizes self-care and aims to truly appreciate her current work rather than put pressure on herself to do more.
“I get acupuncture, cupping and massages, I go to yoga and therapy, and I do everything in the sun to try to keep my mind straight,” Raisa said. “My goal is to enjoy where I’m at. I’m constantly going, going, going and you always feel like you’re not doing enough. I have a hard time sitting and enjoying the fact that like, ‘oh my god, I’m on a hit TV show, like this is pretty cool!’ So it’s really just learning to enjoy the ride and to not put too much pressure on myself.”
Surrounding herself with those who emulate positivity is another way Raisa achieves her goal. Through support from her immediate family, church community and others close to her, Raisa finds the strength to be the skilled actress and vocal advocate for change thousands of Grown-ish fans watch on screen and follow in real-life.
“Growing up, my mom was the strongest person I knew. She definitely kept me going and pushing me and I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had my acting coach who is a great mentor to me, he’s brutally honest and wants the best for me. My therapist is amazing and I have a great church community. I have such a good group of men and women around me honestly,” Raisa said.
Watch Francia Raisa portray the strong-willed Ana on Grown-ish in its second season on Freeform.