Orange Is the New Black’s Jackie Cruz on How Her Near-Death Experience Continues to Shape Her Life
Dominican-American actress Jackie Cruz gets emotional as she shares the traumatic events that influenced her new song “Melly 16,” her excitement on becoming a face for Kat Von D Beauty and her initiative to create space for more Latinx in Hollywood.
As teens, we can be at our most fragile yet most rebellious. Orange Is The New Black star Jackie Cruz knows this from first-hand experience.
The 32-year-old Queen's native, who moved to Santiago, Dominican Republic then to Los Angeles, had few friends in her new home — and those she hung out with got into mischief. “In high school, I always tried to fit in,” the actress and singer shared with CHICA. “I pulled the fire alarm to be cool, like who does that?”
One night racing to a concert, her friend lost control of the vehicle they were in. Jackie flew through the windshield, landing 20 feet from the car.
“When I had the terrible accident, my mom was like, ‘You're not supposed to be here, trust me.' She had a priest say goodbye to me,” says the bilingual actress, tearing up at the memories.
Cruz needed brain surgery, and had her head shaved right away. She also had collapsed lung, a kidney contusion and two broken vertebrae. Her eyes and face were crooked, and she was unable to smile. Physical damage led the teenage Cruz to her lowest point — she attempted suicide twice because her dreams of Hollywood stardom were over. She no longer had the “beauty” to make it.
Fast forward to March 2019. The actress now represents the face of a Kat Von D makeup campaign and at the same time releases the video to her track “Melly 16” — both tied to her relationship with beauty.
“Being the face of the new mascara for Kat Von D Beauty, Go Big or Go Home, has been a dream come true. Like, to be honest with you, I fell in love with the tattoo liner when I was filming Orange Is the New Black season 1 and was like, ‘Oh, this liner is amazing,' so I would always tell my make up artist, ‘One day, I'm going to get a campaign with Kat Von D Beauty,” she said chuckling.
The slogan Go Big or Go Home is appropriate for Cruz at this time in her life. “To me, it means just being fearless,” she continued. “Now I have this campaign when at one point in my life I wanted to give up on life and now I have a campaign — a beauty campaign… That is insane to me.”
Her track, “Melly 16,” was written on her experience with her accident and the feeling of unworthiness that gave her suicidal thoughts. While in the hospital, she met a quadriplegic girl named Melly who told her she was beautiful. In the video, the real Melly makes a cameo, saving the young Jackie from her deadly thoughts.
The song took 15 years for her to make. Since it was so personal, she wanted to make sure it was just right. When she finally found the beat she hoped for, the song was written in 30 minutes.
The “Hora Loca” singer has created the label Unspoken Music (she signed herself!) and a production company, Unspoken Film. As a Latinx, she is now making way for the community and hoping to give opportunities to those who are the most marginalized.
“We need to continue to support one another as Latinas, as Latinos, really, because our group is not as united as it could be, because of opportunity.”
Following the “If you don't see it, create it” ethos, she created her own platform. But she strongly believes in supporting one another. “I feel like it's time to open doors for us, and we're getting there. But if we don't work together, we're not gonna get there.”