Priyanka Chopra's Experience With Racism Doesn't Surprise Me in the Slightest
Yesterday was Equal Pay Day in the U.S. and it seemed that the world took a moment to assess how far we’ve come, but more importantly, how far we have yet to go. However, the conversation this year was a little different, signalling the intersectionality of this conversation. With recent statistics revealing that not only does sex play a role in oppression of women, but also their ethnic heritage, Priyanka Chopra’s latest interview for InStyle magazine makes this evident. In the interview, she openly expressed the known pay discrepancy that happens in Hollywood, but also something perhaps less talked about: The racism she has experienced and how her Indian heritage (and thus the colour of her skin) has hindered her opportunities in the industry.
In the interview, Chopra looks back: "It happened last year," she said. "I was out for a movie, and somebody (from the studio) called one of my agents and said, 'She’s the wrong'—what word did they use? —'physicality'." Automatically assuming that the comment related to her weight, the actor spoke to her agent: "Do I need to be skinnier? Do I need to get in shape? Do I need to have abs?... What does 'wrong physicality' mean?" Chopra continued. "And then my agent broke it down for me... they wanted someone who’s not brown. It affected me," she adds.
And to be honest, I’m not surprised. I, too, am of Indian descent. I recently spoke about how, as a former television presenter, I also experienced explicit racism within the industry. Coming at all directions, from agents and cameraman, it eventually forced me to opt for a career change. And my case was not isolated, with a study conducted by Screen Australia titled Seeing Ourselves, reporting that though Australia has a large immigrant community, 80 percent of of on-screen talent are Caucasian.
In the U.S. a similar pattern appears. According to USC News, a comprehensive study conducted by the Media, Diversity & Social change Initiative found that in top films between 2007 and 2016, under-representation is rife within film. With 70.8 percent of all castings still being Caucasian, only 13.6 were African-American and just 5.7 were of Asian descent.
Chopra proves to be a steadying and educated voice in Hollywood, as her interview confirms her ability to dissect and communicate the issues that arise from Hollywood bravely and articulately. It is only by continuing to have these conversations (over and over again) that we can keep the dialogue alive. A global conversation around any injustice (take the #MeToo movement for example) is exactly how we can start to see incremental change, even if it’s a slow process. It’s also worth noting next time you watch a film or television show, either from the U.S. or Australia, try to be aware of how much diversity you see, not only in measures of ethnic diversity but also in terms of the LGBTQI+ community and other forms of differently abled people. If we cannot represent these groups within the community on our screens, how do we ever expect racism, prejudice and intolerance to dissipate in real life?