‘Palm Springs’ Star Camila Mendes on Why She’s Speaking Out About Black Lives Matter Now
"People with platforms have to understand that we can’t afford to not be activists."
During quarantine, days often seem to blend together endlessly. The new Hulu comedy Palm Springs (out now) mirrors this feeling with a Groundhog Day-esque plot in which wedding guests Nyles and Sarah (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti) find themselves trapped in a time loop. They’re forced to relive the same day again and again, forever celebrating the wedding of Sarah’s younger sister Tala (Camila Mendes). Speaking to HelloGiggles, Mendes says that the repetitive nature of the rom-com—which broke the record for Sundance’s biggest sale ever, BTW—feels similar to her own time in quarantine. But like happens for Palm Springs‘ characters, the Riverdale star is grateful that when her everyday life was brought to a standstill, she was prompted to examine herself more closely than she had in years.
“Before [quarantine], I felt like I was running at a mile a minute, and I couldn’t slow down in my brain,” Mendes says, speaking over the phone in late June. “I felt like I had to go, go, go—I couldn’t stop the momentum and had to keep working.”
“Work had been my priority,” she continues, “And I lost touch with myself.”
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ripped Mendes away from her day-to-day life on Hollywood sets, the 26-year-old realized that she had been working nonstop for eight years. She pursued acting during college, and in the years since landing the role of firecracker Veronica Lodge on the CW’s Riverdale right after her 2016 graduation, Mendes has been hustling to film the hit show while also booking other projects like Palm Springs in-between seasons. While she admits that she seeks out these opportunities and is “super grateful” for them, she says she’s glad to now have some time to reconnect with herself and take things slow.
“I started to find that I was kind of tiring myself out and not giving myself the space to just be,” Mendes reflects. “We live in a time where everyone just can’t stop moving. No one can sit down and just exist. I think the one thing people can take away from [quarantine] is the ability to sit with themselves and reflect…it really felt nice for me.”
Not only has the unexpected downtime offered Mendes a much-needed breather professionally and personally, but it has also given her the opportunity to spend time supporting causes like the Black Lives Matter movement. In June, she attended protests in Los Angeles, and she says now that the emotional experience “changed the game” in terms of how she approaches activism.
“Up until now, it felt easy to shy away from speaking out on politics and social issues,” Mendes explains. “It felt like, ‘Okay, either you’re an activist or not, and there’s no in-between.”
“But now,” she adds, “people with platforms have to understand that we can’t afford to not be activists.”
Actors like herself, she explains, “need to step into those roles and take responsibility to become activists in our own way. Just because it’s not something we’ve dedicated our entire lives to doesn’t mean it can’t be a part of the role we play in society.”
One way Mendes is currently having a hand in steering positive change? By supporting inclusive beauty brands like Urban Decay, whom she partnered with alongside Normani last month. Mendes, a proud Brazilian-American, says she applauds Urban Decay for embracing individuality and encourages other beauty brands to follow suit.
“The people who run the beauty industry need to take it upon themselves to hire Black creatives and Black photographers—and not just Black, but people of color, period,” she says. “They need to actively do the work to be inclusive. It isn’t enough to say that you support Black artists—you actually have to hire them and put your money where your mouth is.”
Mendes’s passionate voice might remind fans of Veronica Lodge, but after three years of playing a high-schooler, the actress says she’s glad to have “graduated to older roles” like Tala. Not only is the Palm Springs character in her 20s, but she’s timid, far different than the assertive Veronica, and the movie’s sunny and funny world is a stark contrast to the dark and dangerous Riverdale. Mendes enjoyed experiencing the differing style, telling Nylon recently, “Being able to play something that was a little bit more comedic in tone, it was very liberating.”
Mendes clearly has her hands full these days, between teaming up with brands, working in Hollywood, and becoming more involved in activism—all while allowing herself some space to breathe. And although none of us know what the post-pandemic future holds, the actress is sure of one thing: She is holding herself accountable for working toward change, specifically surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We don’t want this energy to just fade away—we want to keep it going,” Mendes explains. “I really want to keep sharing information and doing the best I can to keep it moving forward. Right now, it feels like people are finally starting to wake up, pay attention, and engage with their communities and social politics. I think that the direction that we’re headed is a positive direction.”