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She is a mix of black, Cuban, Native American and Irish ancestry and was raised in Manhattan's Lower East Side. She grew up living in a squat. "There was no running water and no plumbing so my mother learned to be a plumber. My dad worked construction so he fixed up our rooms for us" (people.com).
Though as a child she made a brief appearance on "Sesame Street," she was discovered by Larry Clark and Harmony Korine who cast Rosario in her film debut, "Kids."
Many other roles followed including parts in "Men in Black II," "25th Hour," "Clerks II," "Rent," "Eagle Eye," "Seven Pounds," and "Unstoppable," among others, working with directors Spike Lee, Oliver Stone and actors Denzel Washington and Will Smith. She has worked in dramas, comedies, musicals and children's films.
She told People, "In 80 years I will be able to look back at [2004's nude scene in "Alexander"] and say, 'I had a pretty nice rack back then." Ironically, though, in her 20s, she decided she'd had enough of being judged on her looks, so she took to wearing large sweatshirts to auditions (guardian.co.uk.)
Rosario added more to her resume when she produced the film "Descent" under her production banner, Trybe Films. The film is about a student who is raped by a classmate and goes on to exact revenge. She said, "People have all these ideas about [revenge], but what it would actually look like is not a triumph. It's actually really degrading and sad."
Rosario Dawson also co-created the comic book "O.C.T." about a supernatural crimes task force with her co-writer David Atchison. She also starred and executive produced the web series "Gemini Division."
Rosario supports a variety of charities, including Global Cool, the ONE Campaign, Oxfam and others.
Rosario told Esquire, her mom would keep her in line by licking her. "She'd lick me right across my cheek like a cougar. And it was just so humiliating." Because Rosario's mother was only 17 when she was pregnant, Rosario grew up afraid of becoming a teenage mother herself, "aware of how it had limited her mother's options, but the experience of being adopted [by her non-biological father] has made her keen to follow that lead " ideally to adopt an older child who's otherwise unlikely to find a home" (guardian.co.uk.)
Rosario Dawson admits to having a lot of energy. "I'm comfortable with my life. I think I've made smart choices. I'm not afraid of someone looking at me [disapprovingly.] I'm like, 'Go ahead: judge me if you want to. I don't need your validation'" (gq.com).