Priyanka Chopra On Defying Stereotypes, ‘I’m Proud Of My Roots, But That Doesn’t Define Me’

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Priyanka Chopra, the 35-year-old Bollywood actress turned Hollywood A-lister, opened up to Variety about her journey in becoming the first South Asian woman to star in a top American series.

Chopra said that, in India, it is a privilege to be able to have an opinion. Chopra added that in America, having a voice is something that many take for granted.

“We live in a world where we actually have a voice and can use it, we can make life decisions for ourselves, we can go to school the way we want, we can get careers where we want, but I come from a part of the world where that’s a freaking privilege.”

Chopra had previously spoken out about her constant battle against stereotypes in the entertainment industry. Chopra joked that while growing up, the only person who looked like her on television was the cartoon store clerk, Apu, from The Simpsons.

“What happens with a lot of immigrants, I think — when you come into the entertainment business — is that we’re put into a box of what the stereotype of that country might be,” she said.

Chopra stated that while she is very proud of her roots, she does not believe that her ethnicity or skin color should be used to define who she is as an actress.

“I’m extremely proud of my roots, but that doesn’t define me. My ethnicity doesn’t define my opportunity, my ethnicity doesn’t define my merit and my ability.”

Priyanka said that she will continue to fight for equality in the entertainment industry so that the generation of actors that follow her will get parts based on their merit and not their skin color.

“That’s what I will fight for so I hope the generation that comes in after me won’t even have to think about it, that they’ll just get parts because they’re good enough to do them, not because their skin color defines it,” she said.

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.

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.

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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.

Priyanka Chopra talks breaking stereotypes
Priyanka Chopra and her mother.Featured image credit: Emma McIntyreGetty Images

“I was ‘too ethnic’ for the part and it was a mainstream American part,” she said.

Chopra said that her agent did know how to break the news to her. “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,'” said Chopra.

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 said that 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 that she made her name playing controversial women, including a model who smokes and sleeps around in the film, Fashion.

Chopra said that 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.”

While breaking barriers in Hollywood, Chopra still manages to devote her time to various charities. 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.

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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.