Every day—and not just on Equal Pay Day, which was instituted back in 1996—so many women scratch their heads, wondering whether their paychecks are as much as their male coworkers (with the same job titles) in their chosen industries. Undoubtedly, what each of these women quickly realizes is that there's still such a long way to go with gender disparity and bridging the gap between equal pay.
Time and again, this or that study is released, showing that not only does gender bias play a role in the unfair treatment of women in the workplace, but also ethnic heritage. Actress Priyanka Chopra really drives this point home in a poignant interview conducted by the fashion magazine, InStyle, detailing her experiences with the racism that still exists in the Hollywood movie industry. While Chopra discusses Hollywood's overt pay gap, she also delves into something that's less talked about: The racism she has experienced and how her Indian heritage, and thus, the color of her skin, has hindered her opportunities in the movie industry.
Chopra's Lost Movie Role
“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," explains Chopra. Assuming the comment related to her weight, Chopra asked, "Do I need to be skinnier? Do I need to get in shape? Do I need to have abs?" Her agent then broke it down: "I think, Priy, they meant that they wanted someone who’s not brown."
Honestly, I’m not surprised. I, too, am of Indian descent. And as a former television presenter, I also experienced explicit racism within the industry that came from all directions—by agents and even cameramen—and it ultimately forced me to change my career.
And despite people persistently advocating for more representation of minorities within the movie industry, a 2017 study published in USC News found that in 900 of the top Hollywood films released between 2007 and 2016, the under-representation of racial minorities was still rife: 71% of the actors it cast were Caucasians, 14% were African-American, and just 6% were of Asian descent.
Keeping the Dialogue Alive
Chopra is a steadying, educated voice against racial discrimination in Hollywood. Her interview just confirms her bravery and deftness in unpacking these thorny issues. But it's only by keeping these such conversations at the forefront that we can keep the productive dialogue alive.
What else will it take to see some real change? A global conversation about injustice (take the #MeToo movement, for example) is exactly how we can begin to foster incremental improvements that bring us ever closer to meaningful instances of racial and gender diversity and inclusion.
So the next time you view a multimillion-dollar blockbuster film or binge-watch a highly-rated TV show, be aware of what you're seeing on-screen—not only in measures of ethnic diverseness but also in terms of the representation of those within the LGBTQI+ community and those with disabilities. Because if we cannot accurately and honestly represent these marginalized groups on our movie and TV screens, we cannot expect racism, prejudice, and intolerance to dissipate in real life.