Trolls came for rising star Xochitl Gomez. Then she took matters into her own hands

A woman smiling while seated on a bench outside a store.
Mexican American actor Xochitl Gomez is known for Netflix’s “Baby-Sitters Club” and her role as America Chavez in the MCU’s “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Xochitl Gomez had puffed up cheeks, freshly swollen from having her wisdom teeth extracted, when she and her mom drove hours to a Target earlier this spring so the teenage actor could take stock of an impressive career first under fluorescent lighting.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m an action figure!’ and within two minutes, I just started crying,” Gomez says. “My hope is for kids to see themselves in me as an action figure. Something about that is pretty crazy and it’s pretty cool and it’s not lost on me how significant it is. I remember having it in my hand and freaking out — I was just so proud to have her.”

The feat came earlier this year after she joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe with her debut as queer Latina superhero America Chavez in the Benedict Cumberbatch-led “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” It’s a role she didn’t think was in her cards. When her mom put her in martial arts classes years ago to add action skills to her resume, Gomez scoffed: “I always told her, ‘I’m never going to be a superhero, I’m never going to be in a blockbuster. This is just never going to happen. It’s never gonna be me.’ ... I was so wrong. It’s just so crazy how much it has changed since then.


“Being in literally one of the biggest franchises of all time, it’s honestly a dream come true. And with me playing someone queer and Latina in a superhero film, my hope is that kind of representation is going to be normalized. A part of it was a little intimidating, just because I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on being capitalized as like, ‘You are the next big thing’ or ‘You are the Latino superhero!’ I’m not the first and I’m not going to be the last.”

Before joining the film, which has grossed more than $900 million worldwide since its May release, Gomez had mostly appeared in small roles in short films and TV shows such as “Gentefied” and “Raven’s Home” — until getting her big break in 2020 by starring in another fictional universe with a loyal following: “The Baby-Sitters Club.”

Gomez reflects fondly on her brief time playing Dawn Schafer on Netflix’s adaptation of the beloved book series. But the experience of reinventing the character, who is blond and blue-eyed in the books, opened Gomez’s eyes to the power of what she represented — and the backlash it could provoke.

“That role meant everything to me,” she says. “It was something all five of us girls went into together. All of us not really having that big of a credit, we’re all kind of at the same level and doing interviews for the first time, that kind of stuff. And it was just so great that they made Dawn Latina. But I wasn’t really expecting all the backlash. It was just kind of crazy to me. I was like, ‘We should be celebrating this and instead I’m getting hate for it?’ I remember sitting there and just reading it all. It was just nonstop.”

So how did she deal with it?

“I’ll tell you how I dealt with it: I created an account on Twitter and Facebook and I made this [fictional person’s] name like Sarah Parker. I just started typing away, being like: ‘This is insane. We should be celebrating this moment.’ I was saying that kind of stuff just to make myself feel like there was someone advocating for me. I just needed to have a voice, someone who’s standing up for me.”


Speaking over Zoom from her home in Echo Park, the 16-year-old shares that she’s been in student mode in between projects. She’s currently reading “Animal Farm” as part of her independent study curriculum: “It’s intense.” She becomes more animated when the conversation turns to what she loves about performing.

“I love developing a character and discovering new parts of a character,” she says. “The kind of projects that I’ve been leaning towards are those kind of independent projects. I just love stories that have layers and characters that surprise you with something completely unexpected and characters that break stereotypes. I’ve been scouted for characters that aren’t necessarily like Latino-coded and it’s amazing getting to see more progressive casting that isn’t just solely interested in the fact that I’m a Latina.”

She says she hopes to have the same diversity of projects in her career as Scarlett Johansson or Sebastian Stan.

“They’ve been in bigger-budget projects, but they’ve also managed to do smaller indie projects too,” she says. “I’d like to follow in those footsteps ... I feel like maybe a period movie could be cool.”

As a precocious child with busy parents — her father works in construction, while her mom is a Hollywood set decorator — Gomez’s energy found an outlet in musical theater beginning at age 5. She appeared in 22 full-length musical productions, beginning with “The Little Mermaid” as one of Ariel’s sisters, and found a calling as a performer. She began doing on-camera work at age 10.


“A part of me misses musical theater so much,” she says. “And I think I would do it again in a heartbeat. But I don’t know. I just saw [‘Stranger Things’] Gaten Matarazzo in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and I was talking to him and I was like, ‘Yo, how was it?’ He was like, ‘It just takes a lot of time and there’s a lot of energy that you have to devote to it.’ I remember having to spend hours rehearsing and doing vocal work. And maintaining that kind of stage energy for two, three hours a night is a lot of work. So, if anything, I’d probably do an on-screen adaptation of a musical for now.”

Gomez’s Hollywood ambitions extend behind the camera too. She’s been building her confidence in the director space by co-directing music videos — she recently completed “Runner Up” from artist GiaNina Paolantonio, and has plans to begin work on another soon.

The goal, she says, is “being in charge of how the stories and the point of views are shaped,” including, she hopes, a short film or even an indie feature.

“There’s so much more I still want to do,” Gomez says. “Actions speak louder than words and just doing it is just how you do it. Nothing is gonna stop you unless you’re stopping yourself. ... It’s a lot because right now I’m like, literally behind at school. I’m like, ‘I gotta get my priorities [straight],’ like two weeks of schoolwork done.”

That doesn’t mean homework is her only priority, though. After heading to the White House for a Hispanic Heritage Month event this fall, she’s lined up the sci-fi thriller “Ursa Major,” where she’ll star opposite Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the tale of a mother and daughter fighting for survival on an Earth-like planet. Production will begin next year in British Columbia: “I love it up there,” she says. “There’s a few ‘Baby-Sitters Club’ friends I have up there. And I’ll be able to spend my weekends having fun, going bowling and stuff, like we used to.”