From Hamlet to Barbie

The American Dream Inspires a Landmark Role for America Ferrera
America Ferrera in Los Angeles, California in December 2023.
America Ferrera in Los Angeles, California in December 2023.
Rodin Eckenroth/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty

America Georgina Ferrera, born April 18, 1984, is a Honduran-American actress, producer, and book writer known for her iconic monologue in 2023’s hit summer blockbuster movie, Barbie.
Ferrera, the youngest child in a family of nine, was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to América Griselda Ayes and Carlos Gregorio Ferrera, who immigrated from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to the United States in the 1970s. At the age of seven, Ferrera’s parents divorced, leading to her father moving back to Honduras, where he passed away in 2010. Without a father, Ferrera spent most of her time with her mother. As the director of the housekeeping staff of a Hilton Hotel, her mother has always stressed the importance of higher education, instilling this belief in Ferrera as she grew older.

Early Life

Growing up in America , Ferrera did not understand how her identity impacted her life. As a child of two Honduran immigrants, Ferrera reports that she often felt disconnected from the ideals portrayed in ‘The American Dream”. It was almost as if she was promised a life of freedom but not guaranteeing the experience aligned with it.

“Being taught that there is equality and freedom, I deeply believed in the American dream and in the promise of America because that is what I had been taught to believe, not only by my immigrant parents but from my education,” Ferrera reflects to BBC Radio.

Growing up as one of six children with a single mother meant that money was tight, often leaving Ferrera and her siblings to spend most of their day hungry. She recalls the feeling of being “shaped” by the struggle of spending most of her days hungry.

When Invited to BBC Radio 4 show ‘Woman’s Hour’, she states, “I didn’t even really know the facts, and I was too ashamed to ask but I basically spent all of fifth grade going to school with no lunch and getting through the school day hungry.”

Along with financial insecurity, being an undocumented family came with the fear of mistreatment from the government. When America Ferrera was a child, California passed a ballot named California’s Proposition 187, which was invented to deny social services to undocumented immigrants. This proposition prohibited many families from accessing public education, non-emergency health care, and joining programs such as food assistance and housing support from the government. This proposition also stated that state agencies were required to report families who were suspected of being undocumented to U.S. immigration authorities, making it impossible for undocumented families to access essential services or put trust in those around them.

America Ferrera Attends the ATX Television Festival in 2016. (Dominick Dusseault (Dominick D, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons))

“I was in, I believe, in third grade when there was a proposition on the California ballot that would basically take away public services from undocumented families including children in public elementary schools.” America Ferrera said. “I remember my mom pulling me to one side before school and saying ‘If somebody comes and asks you where you’re from, you did nothing wrong, you don’t need to be afraid. you were born in this country.’ I was so young and I didn’t understand!”

Despite these challenges, America Ferrera found peace in school through her passion of acting. It is believed that her curiosity for the hobby started at the age of seven when she played a small role in the Calabash Street Elementary school production of Shakespeare’s iconic play, Hamlet. From this experience Ferrera was certain that she wanted to become an actor, since then signing up for school plays and community theater in Los Angeles throughout adolescence. This burning passion of Ferrara was often discredited by her mother, who, at the time, believed that she should pursue other interests. This did not stop Ferrera, however, instead pushing her to take acting lessons during her time attending El Camino Real High School. This simple decision pushed Ferrera to explore acting as a career.

In 2002, at the age of 17, America Ferrera debuted in the film Real Women Have Curves, a comedy-drama film directed by Patricia Cardoso. This film focused on Ana García, a first-generation Mexican American teenager who lives in East Los Angeles. During the movie Ana graduates and receives a full scholarship to Columbia University with the intention of pursuing a career. Yet, this is put to a halt when her traditional family believes that she should not go to college, instead she should stay in Los Angeles to help provide and take care of her family. Stuck between two sides, she decides to work at her sister’s sewing factory over the summer to help her make a final decision.

This landmark film was well received due to its realistic portrayal of Latino families living in Los Angeles, its themes of body positivity, women empowerment, and its notable acting. To this day, Real Women Have Curves holds the rating of 85% Rotten Tomatoes and has won eight awards such as the 2002 Humanitas Prize in the Sundance Film Category, 2002 National Board of Review for Special Recognition for excellence in film making, 2002 Sundance Film Festival, Special Jury Prize (for acting) for America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros, and 2002 Humanitas Prize, Sundance Film Category for George LaVoo and Josefina Lopez.

From her Debut, America Ferrera has been in many popular films such as 2007 Ugly Betty as Betty Saurez, 2008 Tinkerbell as Fawn, 2010 How to Train your Dragon as Astrid, 2010 The Dry Land as Sarah, and just as recent as last 2023, the summer movie blockbuster Barbie as Gloria.

America Ferrera and her husband, Ryan Piers Williams, attend the Barbie premiere 2023. (Jed Cullen/Dave Benett | WireImage)


Throughout her career, America Ferrera has been nominated and received numerous awards for her acting. These awards include but are not limited to:

Golden Globe Award:

In 2007, 2008, and 2009, America Ferrera won an Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy award for her performance in ABC comedy-drama series Ugly Betty. Additionally, Ferrera is the first Latina woman to win a Golden Globe award in this category.

Screen Actors Guild Awards:

In 2007, Ferrera was nominated for the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series award for Ugly Betty. Nominated for the same award again in 2008 for Ugly Betty.

In 2007, Ferrera won an award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series for Ugly Betty. Nominated for the same award again in 2008 and 2009 for Ugly Betty.

In 2023, she was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for her role in Barbie.

Imagen Awards:

In 2006, Ferrera won the Best Actress award for her acting in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

In 2010, America Ferrera won the Best Actress Award in Television for her acting on Ugly Betty and was nominated for Best Actress in Film for her performance on both The Dry Land and Our Family Wedding.

In 2007, she won the Best Actress in Television award for Ugly Betty and Creative Achievement Award, an award that is used “to recognize a specific creative achievement in teaching, design, scholarship, research, or service that advances architectural education.”

In 2008, 2009, and 2010, her performance in Ugly Betty was nominated for a Best Actress in Television award. In 2016 she was nominated for this same award for her acting in the NBC Sitcom, Superstore.

In 2010, her performance in The Dry Land and Our Family Wedding nominated her for a Best Actress in Film award.

Alliance of Women Film Journalists:

In 2011 Ferrera won Best Actress for Animated Female Film for her voice acting of Astrid in the hit movie How to Train Your Dragon.

Critics’ Choice Movie Awards:

In 2023, Ferrera was nominated for Best Supporting Actress award for her role of Gloria in Barbie.
In 2023, she won a #SeeHer Award, an award given to women who, “advocates for gender equality, portrays characters with authenticity, defies stereotypes and pushes boundaries”.

Celebration of Cinema and Television:

In 2023, her acting in Barbie and Dumb Money, won her the Groundbreaker Award which, “…recognizes excellence in construction across nine categories: Excellence in Sustainability. Excellence in Innovation. Excellence in Safety. Excellence in Community.”

People’s Choice Awards:

In 2023, Ferrera won The Movie Performance of the Year award for her gut-wrenching monologue in Barbie which discusses the contradictory and high standards women must go through just to exist in the world.

America Ferrera’s story from a side character in a school’s rendition of Hamlet to one of the main characters in Barbie– the highest-grossing film of 2023, is nothing short of inspirational. Despite the challenges she faced, Ferrera continues to pursue her childhood dreams of becoming an actor while contributing to educating those about the challenges of growing up poor in an immigrant family. With her groundbreaking achievements and jaw dropping performances, we can’t help but want more of her in the future.

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