Becky G just got her driver’s license–not that she has many opportunities to drive. “I will if it’s an emergency or I need to get somewhere quickly,” says the 20-year-old. But her mom or other members of the family have chauffeured her around for more than a decade. That’s how long Becky, born Rebbeca Marie Gomez, has been working as an entertainer. “Don’t get me wrong,” she says. “I’m a grown woman and a boss lady. But I’m still growing up. Who wants to drive in L.A. traffic anyway?”
After starting with voice acting and commercial work when she was 9, the Los Angeles native developed a following for her YouTube covers of pop and hip-hop songs. By her mid-teens, she had signed a deal with RCA Records and released singles like the Top 20 hit “Shower.” The young singer’s pop confections have attracted big-name collaborators like Pitbull and Kesha. She has also opened for Katy Perry on tour, modeled for CoverGirl and appeared in episodes of Empire and Nashville.
Now she is one of the stars of Power Rangers (March 24), a big-budget, cinematic reimagining of the television series that’s long been a staple of Saturday-morning kids’ TV. The original–in which otherwise normal teenagers find themselves piloting mechanical giants to fight enormous monsters–relied on goofy special effects and stunts to keep kids watching. But this new film, while still aimed a young audience, is an attempt to launch a new superhero franchise not based on a comic book, a difficult proposition in the age of Marvel’s dominance.
Gomez plays Yellow Ranger Trini, who teams up with four friends to stop the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) from destroying the world. She says she wanted to be in the film because this adaptation promised to be socially aware and diverse. The other Rangers include Chinese-Canadian actor Ludi Lin; English-born, half-Indian actor Naomi Scott; African-American actor RJ Cyler; and Australian actor Dacre Montgomery. “You’ve got all kinds of cultures, and in the character breakdown, there were no ethnicities,” Gomez says. “That’s the whole point: anyone can be powerful. It’s not the color of your skin. It’s not the social group that you belong to in high school. That’s why Rangers is so awesome–because those walls come tumbling down.”
For Gomez, whose grandparents emigrated from Mexico, issues of representation are crucial, especially at a time when immigration is a hotly contested issue. “Although it doesn’t affect me firsthand because I am American,” she says, “it does affect me because I am proud to be Mexican. For people to be able to make me feel like I don’t belong is terrible.” And despite her fame, she says, she’s been discriminated against: “I have heard my family referred to as ‘you people’ before.” She describes a recent tense interaction at an airport that took on new gravity in the light of recent events.
It was also meaningful to Becky that her character questions her sexuality. The revelation takes place in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. But if the movie becomes a hit, it’s likely to be the kind of detail that becomes meaningful for a segment of its primarily young audience. “When I was doing that scene, it was the first time as an actress where I couldn’t control my emotions,” she recalls. “I felt very connected to her, because this is something that a lot of people go through.”
It’s not certain that Power Rangers will be successful enough to generate sequels. So for now, Becky is going back to her first love, music. She’s working on two albums, one in English and one in Spanish. She’s clearer in her artistic vision than she’s ever been before. “I almost feel like it’s a rite of passage to get lost at some point,” she says, “so you can come back and realize who you really are.”