A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to connect with Actress and advocate for inclusion and representation of Latinx talent in media, Denise Santos. Denise is best known for starring alongside flag football star, Diana Flores as her Mamá in this year's groundbreaking NFL Super Bowl commercial. She can also be seen on Long Slow Exhale, MacGyver, The Resident, and Family Blood.
Atlanta Film and TV: We gave you a brief introduction. Could you share with us about who you are and what you do in the Atlanta Film and TV
Denise Santos: "I am an actress, co-founder, and producer of Latinas in Media Atlanta, and most recently Latinx Filmmakers Atlanta. I began acting in high school, but almost 10 years ago my career took another level. Since coming to Atlanta, I have realized that there are people like me, but there is not enough visibility and platforms to showcase Latinas. So, I got together with two friends, and co-founded LIMA (Latinas in Media Atlanta,) where we showcase actors, directors, and writers and allow them to perform their original works through live performances and showcase them to the industry and community. Latinas in Media Atlanta took everything to another level. We were featured in Atlanta Magazine and photographed by Ben Rollins, then made the cover of Oz Magazine highlighting Latinos in a piece titled, “Interrupting The Narrative” written by Daniela Cintron. These experiences have led to more opportunities, and I am proud to represent our Latin talent. The Latin community in Atlanta may be small but very much intertwined with the rest of the industry. As such, I wanted to create a platform to advocate for, speak on behalf of, and highlight the Latin talent in Atlanta."
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you take us on your journey about how you started, to where you are now?
Denise Santos: "As an only child, I always loved acting. As a kid, I would stand in front of the mirror with a brush for a microphone, talking to myself and doing my own thing! Because I was a shy child, my mom enrolled me in modeling schools which pushed me to want to study acting more, which actually took my mom by surprise. Traditionally, Latin families do not encourage creative outlets because they fear you will struggle."
"In high school, I took drama classes, did background work, and worked on short films. My journey began in Miami, Florida, and when I moved to Atlanta in 2009, I took a break from acting. I got remarried and focused on my children and family. With their encouragement, they pushed me back into acting. I got into classes, booked short films, and did some background work to familiarize myself with the Atlanta film industry. I would not be where I am today without my family and the people I have worked and collaborated with on projects. It's been a blessing to work with the people I have had in my life. "
Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your parents recognize your love of the arts? And, if so, how did they nourish your gift to facilitate growth?
Denise Santos: My love for acting wasn’t encouraged, which often happens to actors (or people) in the industry, particularly those from traditional upbringings, where parents may want their children to become doctors or lawyers to avoid struggles. Or they may want their children to have a degree or a license to secure a career and title. My mom, as a single mother, wanted the best for me. However, I didn’t want what she wanted for me. Although she didn’t necessarily encourage my dream of acting, she was supportive and will celebrate my achievements. I also encouraged myself by learning to find my voice. I took drama classes. In college and pursued acting behind my mom’s back. Despite my mom’s wishes, acting was calling me! Now, she sees me on TV and when I received my first paycheck, I let her know it’s legitimate and that I can make a living from acting.
"My hope for those reading this interview is to find their path, even if it’s contrary to what others may advise. If you want to pursue your dream, do what you need to do to make it happen."
- Denise Santos
Atlanta Film and TV: You are fluent in Spanish and English. Can you talk about how your being bilingual created opportunities for you?
Denise Santos: "Spanish is my first language, and I am fluently bilingual. My mother would tell me to speak Spanish at home. I didn’t learn English until I started school. Being bilingual has given me tremendous opportunities to work on diverse projects, whether it’s commercials, industrials, film projects, or network bookings. I’m lucky to speak both languages - including a little Portuguese!
I’ve recently worked on two short films that will be released sometime soon. They are Spanglish productions, and because I am bilingual it really pushed me to work on those projects. The most recent Super Bowl commercial required I speak both English and Spanish. Speaking both languages has been nothing but beneficial for me, and I consider myself lucky! "
Atlanta Film and TV: How do you advocate for inclusion and representation of Latinx talent in the media?
Denise Santos: "My advocacy began with Latinas in Media Atlanta and now Latinx Filmmakers Atlanta. We aim to create a platform to showcase the work of Latin people of all colors, shapes, and sizes in our community, industry, and the world. We’ve hosted two live showcases and a virtual showcase during the pandemic. We also have active social media platforms where we share resources, links, and opportunities for other Latin people to reach out to the rest of the nation and the world.
We share opportunities for auditions by the Casting Directors Society of America looking for Latin actors by reposting and sharing to our Latinas in Media Atlanta page. We lend our voice and platform to highlight our people’s achievements in Atlanta and beyond. We come from many nationalities and backgrounds and we’re not only one stereotype. By spotlighting the diversity of our community, we aim to create a ripple effect and showcase it to people worldwide who may not know us or have enough information about us."
Watch our full interview here!
Atlanta Film and TV: We are big on networking and building relationships. Could you share with our readers and viewers its importance, and how you benefited from networking and building relationships?
Denise Santos: "Over the years, it has been important for me to build friendships and relationships with people in our industry. I respect what everyone does, how hard they work, and how much talent there is in this industry. I want to create friendships. I don't want to go into something asking, "What can I do for you, or what can you do for me?" Instead, I ask, "How can we collaborate or help lift each other up? What resources or job opportunities can I share? Are there any friends I can introduce you to, and vice versa?" Because when one of us wins, we all win! I want to create a family that I didn't have growing up. For instance, I didn't attend film school or graduate with a BFA, but if I can surround myself with those friends, we can lift each other up, and that's called networking. AMAZING! It has been beautiful to see, hear, and experience the projects that have come up because of friendships and relationships in this industry. I have collaborated with numerous friends within my circle on a number of successful projects. Greenlit ATL says, "Create. Don't Wait" - which is what we did. I got together with my friends, and we collaborated. We're all like-minded, and we created instead of waiting. We put something together, showcased ourselves, and it has been amazing!"
Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have any G.E.M.S. you would like to share?
Denise Santos: "When I first moved to Atlanta, I worked as a featured background artist in the movie ‘42’, starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. At the time I worked on this film, I didn't know who Chadiwick Boseman was. I was part of a core group filming for five days with the same people, and it wasn't until lunchtime when we were all hungry and rushing to crafty to get something to eat. When I got in line, I turned around and saw Chadwick Boseman standing behind me. I stepped back and said, 'Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry! Please, go ahead.' And he said, 'No, no, no! You go first!' I won't forget that one line he spoke to me with kindness and chivalry and the fact that he considered letting me go ahead first. So, be kind. You will never know who you will meet on set or who you will bump into in the audition room. Be kind to everyone. Be respectful and considerate. Also, be humble in the sense that you are where you are because you deserve to be there but also learn to listen, and be aware. I've taken words of advice with me for many years."
Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have anything else you would like to share with us?
Denise Santos: "The Super Bowl commercial is currently airing and was well received! Women in flag football, women in sports, Latinas, breaking down barriers, and speaking in Spanish in front of millions of viewers on the world's biggest stage. It is an honor to be a part of it all!
I also worked on two films, both bilingual. The first is ‘Cooking with Claudia,’ written and directed by Priscilla Torres and Vincent Bates and the other directed by Ernesto Santiesteban and Maria Marin, which are beautiful films coming out soon, and if you follow me on social media I’ll share information about those projects when more details are available."
How can people connect with you?
Denise Santos: "I am @denisepsantos1 on Instagram. Instagram is where I post updates, and news that’s coming out. And, you can view my work on demoreel.com/denisesantos where you can view my representation, resume, and my demo reel. "