Veteran actress Carmen Zapata, who appeared regularly on television, in movies and on stage during a nearly 70-year career, died of heart failure at her home in Van Nuys Sunday night, according to the Hollywood Reporter. She was 86.
Zapata also co-founded Los Angeles’ Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in 1973 to showcase Latino talent and culture, especially for young audiences. The 99-seat Carmen Zapata Theatre in Lincoln Heights was named in her honor.
“Thousands of young people have been exposed to the theater arts, helping them to develop their minds, character and maybe the most important for many of them – to be in touch with their Hispanic roots and feel proud of their culture,” Foundation officials said in a statement.
BFA has given many Hispanic actors, such as Andy Garcia and Lupe Ontiveros, their acting starts in L.A.
The native New Yorker, born to a Mexican father and an Argentine mother, was knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1990. In 2003, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Like many Latina actresses of her generation, Zapata, who could sing and dance as well as act, was often hired to play a maid or some other role steeped with ethnic stereotypes.
Nonetheless, “she did go on to do some great work, appearing in over one hundred movies and TV shows,” according to the Latin Heat Entertainment website. Her dozens of film roles include “Boulevard Nights” and “Death in Granada”, but she may have been best known for her role as one of the nuns in the 1992 hit movie “Sister Act,” and its 1993 sequel, “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.” She also starred on the NBC daytime soap, “Santa Barbara.”
One of her longest-running roles was on the bilingual children’s program Villa Alegre, where for nine years she played lead character “Doña Luz”, according to Latin Heat.
The Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee was co-founded in 1972 by Zapata and actors Ricardo Montalban, Edith Diaz and Henry Darrow.
At various times she was also a teacher, producer, translator, lecturer and narrator.
“She was vital, she was intense, she was dynamic and rooted in the things that she believed in, Lina Montalvo,” the Foundation’s managing director, told KPCC. “She worked very hard.”
Fellow actors, community groups and others this week hailed Zapata as an accomplished actress and trailblazer in the arts.