Priyanka Chopra, the star of ABC’s Quantico, says she was passed up for a movie role when producers wanted someone who wasn’t as, well, brown as her.
“It happened last year,” Chopra told Entertainment Weekly. “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.’ So in my defense as an actor, I’m like, ‘Do I need to be skinnier? Do I need to get in shape? Do I need to have abs?’ Like, what does ‘wrong physicality’ mean?” Unfortunately, the disheartening reality of the matter quickly became clear to her. “And then my agent broke it down for me. Like, ‘I think, Priy, they meant that they wanted someone who’s not brown.’ It affected me.”
Chopra continued, “I’m a producer, so I understand how much of an asset, as an actor, I would be on a project,” she said. “I don’t negotiate—I make my (agent) negotiate. That’s step one. But I think negotiating is important. I’m not someone who is demanding. I’m conversational. So when I talk money, I’m not going to be asking for ridiculous amounts that I might not be able to bring back. It starts with me being logical and saying, ‘I deserve that much in remuneration. These are the returns that I see myself bringing to the table.’ And, usually most people come around when you place it like that.”
The 35-year-old actress—reportedly the first South Asian actor to headline an American primetime show with ABC’s Quantico—is very aware of just how racist the process in place can be. “No one will say that a woman is getting paid less because she’s a woman of color, but the numbers mostly end up reflecting that,” she said. “I want to see the day where female-led movies get as much of a run as the boys do, which means the ticket-buying audience needs to be open to that. People don’t go watch females in movies because they don’t believe that they can be heroes. The world has to change the way they look at their heroes. Specifically how men can help is changing the ‘locker-room talk’ conversation. Nothing will change until we break the stereotypes of gender in our normal, day-to-day life.”
Thankfully, Chopra is up to the task. Her genuine motivation to change things is only measured by her clarity on the system in place. “It’s all a big, dirty muddle of muck,” she said, before adding, “which we are here to clean. It’s going to take years, but we’re doing it. Our voices are louder. We’re standing by each other despite the fact that only a few women will eventually get the job. And I’m hoping that through the fight, it’s going to change for the next generation. I hope I’m a part of that revolution.”