Priyanka Chopra, the 35-year-old Bollywood actress turned Hollywood A-lister, recently opened up about facing discrimination upon breaking into the American television and film industry.
In Toronto, Priyanka attended the International Film Festival (IFF) where she spoke with Cameron Bailey, an artistic director for the IFF, about her experience as an Indian woman in Hollywood.
Just two years ago after starring in Quantico, Chopra got a jarring call from her agent.
“I was asked to not be a part of a movie because I was ‘too ethnic.'”
According to Chopra, one of the producers felt that most American viewers would need too much of a backstory to describe why a woman of color was “mainstream,” according to Vulture.
“I was ‘too ethnic’ for the part and it was a mainstream American part. And I remember my agent being — he didn’t know how to tell me that. He was really skirting the issue and I said to him, ‘Just tell me.’ And he said, ‘Priyanka, I don’t know how to say that in 2017,’ that this was actually a reason! They could have at least made up a reason! Don’t be so on the nose about it! But they said the reasoning that was given was that, ‘You know, we’ll have to explain how an Indian girl is this character in the mainstream. We’ll have to explain where her parents came from and what was she doing in America.'”
Megastar Priyanka Chopra can be considered one the most popular celebrities in India at the moment. Chopra has been in 50 films and became the first South Asian to star in an American TV drama series, ABC’s Quantico.
Chopra spoke about her very difficult move, from a career in which everyone knows her and she looks like everyone else, towards a career in Hollywood. In America, Priyanka says she has had a very different experience.
Chopra spent four years living with a family in Iowa. As a teenager with an Indian accent in Cedar Rapids, Priyanka said students would ask her things like, “‘Do you find gold in your rivers?’… Or, ‘Do you take an elephant to school?'”
Chopra said, “I had to be like, ‘That’s the other Indians.'”
During the time she spent in America as a teenager. Chopra said she didn’t see anyone who looked like her on television.
“I still don’t see that many people who look like me on television, or movies for that matter.”
Upon returning to India, Priyanka said she made her name playing controversial women, including a model who smokes and sleeps around in the film Fashion.
Chopra said she heard from friends in the entertainment industry that there were South Asian actors trying to break into Hollywood.
“I never understood that until I started working here.”
Three years ago, she’d signed a deal with ABC, but she had to read 26 scripts to find a role that, as she said, “wasn’t a stereotype of what America would think an Indian would be, like My Big Fat Punjabi Wedding.”
Chopra’s part as Alex Parish in Quantico had originally been written for a white actress.
According to Priyanka, sexism had been her biggest issue in India. Chopra was up for a big movie with major male lead actors, and the producer told her that if she couldn’t match the schedule of the male stars, they would have to find another actress.
“He was like, ‘Listen, let’s keep it real: Girls are replaceable. Who are people coming to watch in the movies? The guy on the poster. The girl is standing where? Behind him. So if I change her and I get another girl, she’s still going to be doing the same thing. If I don’t get another girl, I’ll just launch a new actress.'”
Priyanka said the conversation in the office affected and made her want to make such an impact in the entertainment industry that she would not be easy to replace.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really replaceable. I don’t want to be replaceable.'”
Priyanka said she was naive to how difficult it would be to break into the entertainment industry. Now that she knows the hardships, she says she is taking it “very personally.”
“I really do hope for the future generation that they don’t have to deal with this because of what my colleagues and I will do. I want to stick my feet in and say, ‘No, this is not what we’re going to stand for.’ Look at the world around you. Look at North America right now. It’s a melting pot of cultures from all around the world. You cannot turn around and tell one kid or one person or one type of person because of the color of their skin that they need to be treated a certain way. Yes, they’ve done it for centuries. But come on now! We’re in the 20th century and we really need to step up for ourselves, and the future generation.”
Priyanka was appointed UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador. Chopra, 34, was recognized at the UNICEF’s 70th Anniversary gala at the United Nations headquarters in New York, according to People.
The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, which she runs, is currently “self-funded and extremely small,” she said, but they educate 80 or so girls around India.
David Beckham presented the Quantico actress with the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadorship during the night’s celebration. In India, Chopra was involved with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The Baywatch star is also said to be a longtime advocate for the rights of women.
[Featured Image by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images]