Actress Shakira Barrera On Her Career and the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest

Nicaraguan-American Actress Shakira Barrera moved from New Jersey all the way to LA when she was just twenty-three years old to follow her dreams. Eleven years later, Barrera has built an incredible career in Hollywood, starring in projects like Netflix’s Emmy-nominated GLOW or the highly anticipated Marvel series, Ironheart. Now, she’s talking to Latinitas Magazine all about her journey into the industry, and a virtual film festival that’s creating opportunities for Latinos she never had. 

Barrera got her start in the industry in a rather unorthodox way, “There was this nationwide contest that was going on with Coca-Cola. I think I was 19 years old, and they were looking for the fourth Fanta girl. They had a campaign and back then, social media was nothing, but we had flip phones.” She asked her friend’s little sister, who was into making short films at the time, to record her, “It was so silly, but I just remember how much I believed in it. And I ended up winning and I became the fourth Fanta girl. I was on pineapple sodas and I still have them, and I was in a campaign in Los Angeles. That’s the first time I flew out here, and I saw the palm trees.” 

Shakira Barrera as the Pineapple Fanta!

That image stuck with Barrera, what the palm trees looked like and how different they were from the ones she’d seen in Miami. Pondering it, she knew in her soul she had to come back. A few years later that dream became a reality, “When I came to LA, I just remember not seeing too much representation in terms of women that looked like me in the spaces that I was in… And back in the day, the casting directors would give breakdowns that had the term ‘ethnically ambiguous’, and that meant Latino. And anything under the category of Bipoc.” Starting out, Barrera didn’t get to play many specifically Latino roles, “ I just remember it being very exciting and one of the first opportunities that I got to do a guest star on TV. I played a Muslim high school journalist, a reporter. I wore a hijab and everything, which, you know, nowadays, would be approached differently.” However, at the time, this was fairly commonplace for the industry. 

Now, though, it couldn’t be further from reality, and Barrera’s gotten plenty of opportunities to play Latinos since, “I did just read a report that came out that said that Latinos are 12% down in representation in media. I’ve been saying this for years. I think we’re the most underrepresented, but I do from my end, experience a lot more opportunities and a lot more range of characters that are Latino that are in leading roles. I do get the opportunity to at least show what I can do now, you know?” 

Shakira Barrera as Yolanda “YoYo” in Netflix’s GLOW.

It was through the success of her career, being on shows like Netflix’s GLOW or Freevee’s Sprung that she learned about the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest, “I was honestly just reached out via email by the team…I feel like as an artist, sometimes you don’t want to share so much because you’re judging whether or not it’s the right answer. I think with me, just in that time…I started to know myself a little bit more and just be confident to start sharing and to start talking about my experiences in a way that wasn’t selfish or showy, but rather as like a lesson, or for me to maybe be a mirror for other kids that want to do it.” So when it came to ¡Tú Cuentas!, “They just were in alignment with what I wanted to do and what I wanted to share.”

So what exactly is ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest? “So first off you should go to and read all of their points there.” Barrera states, however, “If you are 16 to 26 years of age in the USA and Puerto Rico, and you want to do film and you want to be a creative and you don’t know where to start, those are the people that this film festival is for.” Like any film festival, Cine Youth Fest has prizes, with first place walking away with $4,000 (2nd place $2,000, and third $1,000), but Barrera was quick to point out that’s not really the main benefit, the Cine Youth Festival “Is for you to see what you got and what you can do and what you’re made of without being judged, you know?… I think this industry is really about connections, you don’t know when those seeds are going to reap and it could be years later. So I think it’s just a great opportunity for up and emerging filmmakers.” 

Founded by HITN, the film festival is now accepting entries for its fourth annual event, spotlighting the talent, innovative narratives, and artistic vision of up-and-coming Latino/a filmmakers.  Entries will be accepted via or FilmFreeway through August 6, 2024. The festival will take place virtually from October 9 to October 16, 2024, meaning the award ceremony is held online. If you’re scared of crowds or nervous about making some big debut, this way you don’t have to be. Barrera wants to encourage any readers out there to not take it so seriously, “Just go and like, show off and just see what comes out and see what people think about it and find out your taste like. What do you like to do? What do you like to see? Put that out there and see how it’s received.” After all, she thinks if she was a kid she probably would have gone after this too, “I would have definitely tried it, and I think I would have gotten my friend’s little sister to record a short film and just gone for it.” 

Shakira Barrera at Pasadena Playhouse’s “One of The Good Ones” Red Carpet | Instagram

“I think these festivals are important because you don’t know what can happen. And artists need just a little bit of validation to keep going, so if somebody can validate you and you have the opportunity to put yourself out there, I think that it would have made a big difference in confidence. And I did it. So that’s why I feel like something like this is so important for you to kind of test yourself out and start to build your taste, your confidence, and your artistry. Cause you never know what could happen.” Through working with Coca-Cola Barrera was able to be in a national campaign with models, gaining real-world experience in the industry, and even paying for most of her college. 

“I was terrified. I had to model. I’ve never modeled before. I had to sing. I’ve never sang before. I had to dance, that was like what a difference from me doing the commercial sides that they had me doing. I never had read anything like that… But it was such a good experience for me. That’s how I knew I wanted to come to LA and that commercials were even a thing. And that’s how I got my footing in the industry. I transitioned out of dance into commercials and then commercials led to TV.” From Television, Barrera even dipped her toes in the gaming industry through her role as Espada in Far Cry 6.

Shakira Barrera in Far Cry 6 as Camila “La Espada” Montero.

“They cared very much about having Latino actors in those positions. The game was held in a world named Yara and we based it off of Cuba. And they cared, they wanted us to have genuine Cuban accents and they got us a dialect coach. And we worked with that coach, that coach was on set every day…Once we started the process they also got a friend of mine now who worked on the game, his name is Manuel Rodriguez. They upped him to be in the writer’s room because he was Cuban. And they wanted those authentic one-liners from Cuba. And I just thought that was so smart, so much care going into the game. And you could see it. You could see it and you can feel how authentic it is.” 

That level of authenticity is something Barrera holds dear, and even experienced on the set of Freevee’s Sprung, “Greg Garcia was the showrunner. He did Raising Hope and My Name is Earl and we sat down after the role and I told him if there was any way that the character could be Nicaragüense because she was written Mexican. And he had no issue with that. There was just some stuff that he had to research himself to kind of adjust. But to hear Buñuelos on a TV show, and my character’s making buñuelos, it was cool to just see how it can translate to the general market. And, how easily people can change those things. Showrunners can change that, and how much of a change it would mean to our community.” 

Shakira Barrera in Freevee’s Sprung.

She went on to share that following the episode, people started messaging her about how much that seemingly small moment of representation meant to them, “That’s what I was talking about earlier in the interview is like, you just need a little bit of reassurance. If someone can watch that and say, Oh, that girl looks like me. It doesn’t matter if I’m Nicaragüense, it’s a connection that you find.” 

Now Barrera is looking forward to making even more connections by bringing her background into her role on Marvel’s Ironheart next year, “I’m really excited because speaking about representation, that show has the most representation that I’ve ever worked on to date. And it’s going to be on a major streaming platform on Disney Plus.” Ironheart’s character, and thus her actress Dominique Thorne, was already introduced in Black Panther 2, “So fans can definitely look forward to getting into her story. I did ADR three weeks ago, and I can say that the fighting sequences are phenomenal. The music is so amazing, so fun. I don’t know how we cleared so many songs, but you know, it’s Disney.” She joked, “But it is so, so fun to watch and I’m so excited for everyone to see it!” 

Follow Shakira Barrera on social media to see what she does next, and check out the ¡Tú Cuentas! Cine Youth Fest for more information on how to apply and get involved. The Youth Fest’s final deadline is August 6, so don’t miss out! 



  • Camila Dejesus

    Magazine & Media Editor, Camila Dejesus has been writing since she was a child and enjoys all forms from creative writing down to narrative analysis. She graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor's in Television and Radio Production and works full-time at Latinitas Magazine. In her free time, she loves writing stories, water coloring, or playing songs on her Baritone Ukulele. Now, her greatest passion is finding new topics that will engage and inspire Latinx youth.

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