“Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra may be a huge star, but some casting agents still can’t get past the colour of her skin.
“It happened last year,” she tells InStyle as part of a candid discussion about the gender pay gap and the added pressures women of colour face. “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 defence 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.”
As the first South Asian woman to headline a primetime TV series, Chopra says the pay gap is very real.
“No one will say that a woman is getting paid less because she’s a woman of colour, but the numbers mostly end up reflecting that,” she explains, suggesting real reform needs to start during the casting process.
“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.'”
Chopra is hopeful audiences will eventually come to choose female-led movies as much as they do those led by males, but asserts we need to abolish traditional gender stereotypes first.
“People don’t go watch females in movies because they don’t believe that they can be heroes,” she says. “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.
“It’s going to take years, but we’re doing it. I hope I’m a part of that revolution.”