‘Ghosts’ Star Román Zaragoza on How CBS Sitcom Makes Sure Sasappis Is Not a ‘Stereotype’

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It’s not controversial to note how Hollywood has a major representation problem. But while they’re trying their best to remedy these shortcomings, things are not always as well-rounded as they seem. In the more than 100 years of productions, the voices of marginalized communities including Indigenous characters have been notably missing from film and TV. While the history of Indigenous representation is messy and often associated with an iniquitous portrayal, Ghosts star Román Zaragoza and the writers of the CBS sitcom collectively ensure they are making their mark a positive one when it comes to improving representation free of stereotypes and tropes.

During a conversation at Montreal’s Just for Laughs ComedyPro this past summer as part of the world-famous event’s 40th-anniversary festival, Zaragoza and his co-stars along with co-showrunner Joe Wiseman spoke out about the show’s Lenape character played by the 26-year-old actor.

“For so long, native representation on TV and film has been so surface, very stereotypical, borderline offensive, and my father [Gregory Zaragoza], he’s a Native actor and he’s been in the business for a long time and he’s played a lot of characters that are just there to die or there for a laugh – never really a three-dimensional person,” Zaragoza told panel host Richard Crouse and eventgoers on July 30. “I wanted to bring myself to this character and I wanted him to be the voice of reason, I love the idea of making [Sas] a storyteller, not like a warrior or these stereotypes that we’ve seen for years.”

Elsewhere in the conversation, Zaragoza brought up the joy he felt when getting the chance to star alongside his father in the Season 1 episode, “Ghostwriter,” which teased a brief look at his character’s origins. “To have my father play my dad on the show was just amazing. We’ve never played father and son before — we’ve actually barely ever worked together because I wanted to stay away from his career, I wanted to go my own path. [But] to have us work together was just amazing.”

While TV as of late has been a watershed moment for the Indigenous people with shows like Dark Winds or Reservation Dogs, there is still work to be done after years of slighting and misrepresenting the community through its cultural appropriations and romanticized portrayals contributing to age-old narratives defined by the American thought process. Earlier this summer, Zaragoza opened up about how Ghosts helps create more meaningful discussions around representation for not just his character, but those of his co-stars as well like Alberta Haynes (Danielle Pinnock), Trevor Lefkowitz (Asher Grodman), Jay Arondekar (Utkarsh Ambudkar), and Flower (Susan) Montero (Sheila Carrasco).

The actor admits representation has not only mattered along his own journey but has been an equally “big part” of his own career from the start. “It has been because of just how I present in the world, because of where I come from and my ancestors. It’s inevitable that representation was going to be such a big part of my career and to be on the show,” he told PopCulture. “People will reach out to me on Instagram and stuff and say, ‘Hey, thank you for being this representation I never saw before.’ Also being that mixed representation, because I’ve been trying to be very vocal about who I am apart from Sass and I think that’s been really exciting to hear how people feel represented in that regard as well.”

Starring alongside an ensemble cast led by Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar, Zaragoza is back for Season 2 of Ghosts with Richie Moriarty, Sheila Carrasco, Danielle Pinnock, Brandon Scott Jones, Devan Chandler Long, Rebecca Wisocky and Asher Grodman on Sept. 29 at 8:30 p.m. ET. For more on Ghosts and everything Season 2, stay tuned to the very latest about the show, news about the cast, and everything in between only on PopCulture. 

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