Priyanka Chopra is a major star in both Bollywood and Hollywood and has no problem speaking out on important issues in the entertainment industry. Most recently, she spoke to InStyle about how she was denied an acting role, and the reasons why, sadly, won’t surprise you.
She was the first South Asian actor to headline an American prime time show with Quantico and is aware of the additional barriers women of color face in Hollywood. She’s learned first hand after losing a role because of her skin colour.
“It happened last year,” she says. “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 used?—‘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? 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.”
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She’s also no stranger to the staggering gender wage gap.
“I feel it every year, especially when you’re doing movies with really big actors, whether it’s in India or America,” Chopra says about the wage gap. “If an actor is getting 100 bucks, the conversation will start with max, like, 8 bucks. The gap is that staggering.”
Chopra has worked in two major movie industries, Hollywood and Bollywood, and says that they both address the gender wage gap very differently.
“In America, we don’t talk about it as brashly, whereas in India the issue is not skirted around. I’ve been told straight up, if it’s a female role in a movie with big, male actors attached, your worth is not really considered as much,” says Chopra. “A producer-director said to me, ‘Well, you know how it is in these big tentpole movies with the big boys. This is the budget for the girl, and we can’t move beyond that,’ which was, like, a measly five percent of what [the male lead] was getting. It happens in both countries, it’s just that here, it’s hidden behind other things. In America, everyone is so worried about being liable that they don’t want to say anything wrong, but they end up doing it anyway.”
She grew up in a household where her mother made the money decisions and handled the taxes. When she started working in the entertainment industry she realized how different it was.
“I grew up in an environment where a woman led the household,” she says. “He was man enough to say, ‘Listen, my wife does this way better than me.’ And nobody even questioned it. So when I came out into the big, bad world of entertainment, I was like, ‘Oh, well the world’s different than my house!’”
When it comes to closing the gap, Chopra says that Hollywood needs to start at the bottom of the pyramid.
“It happens at the casting level. There are not enough meaty, strong lead roles for women where we don’t have to compromise on every level just to get the best job,” she says. “I think one of the big steps is to first of all recognize it. I see a lot of people explaining why the pay gap exists. Producers have told me, ‘Well, when you have even the biggest actress in a movie, it still doesn’t make the returns that it would if you cast a guy.’”
She also believes that the responsibility falls on the viewers as well.
““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,” says Chopra. “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.”
We think the way Chopra has no fear about speaking up on these important issues makes her as badass as the female CIA agent she plays on TV.
Catch Quantico when it returns April 26 at 10 p.m. ET on CTV.