Priyanka Chopra lost a role because she had ‘the wrong physicality’ (i.e., brown skin)

Clive Davis and Recording Academy Pre-GRAMMY Gala

I like Priyanka Chopra because I can’t bring myself to hate on a fellow Indian girl. But my general “she’s okay” policy about Priyanka is just that – I think she’s okay, she’s fine, she doesn’t annoy me too much. I don’t think she’s a very good actress, but she’s very pretty and I like seeing Indian women on magazine covers and in fashion editorials. Beauty is diverse, and Priyanka is a hottie. Priyanka talks a lot in interviews too, which is also fine. Personally, I find Mindy Kaling’s interviews more entertaining, interesting and informative, but Priyanka talks about real sh-t too. Priyanka sat down with InStyle for a collection of interviews and essays they did around Equal Pay Day and the issues of feminism, pay equality and more. You can read the full piece here. Some highlights:

The pay gap between men & women: “I feel it every year, especially when you’re doing movies with really big actors, whether it’s in India or America. If an actor is getting 100 bucks, the conversation will start with max, like, 8 bucks. The gap is that staggering… 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.”

Bollywood inequality versus Hollywood inequality: “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.”

How to negotiate as a woman: “I’m a producer, so I understand how much of an asset, as an actor, I would be on a project… 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.”

She’s lost parts because of her skin color: “It happened last year. 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.”

How she handles her own money: “I’m actually really careful with my money. I’ve earned it with a lot of hard work.” Once Chopra’s next batch of paychecks came in, her mother taught her how to invest, advising her daughter to purchase small properties and rent them out as office space. “It really paid off for me. Every month, you take a little bit out and invest it. It doesn’t have to be big investments, because I know how hard it is. Five years later, I was like ‘When did this happen?!”

She does splurge though: “I burn a little bit of plastic if I’m feeling emotional. And when I mean burn plastic, I don’t go, like, shopping at Saks… I’ll buy a car. I like to give myself a good life because I’ve worked really hard for it—I like having good homes, good cars, good clothes and shoes. I treat myself. ‘Cause ain’t nobody else going to do it!”

[From InStyle]

“The wrong physicality” – well, that’s interesting dog-whistle racism. Donald Trump doesn’t hate Mexicans, he just thinks they have the wrong physicality. He doesn’t hate Haitians and all of those people from the “sh-thole countries,” he just thinks they have the wrong physicality. See? The code word doesn’t make it any better. It’s still awful.

As for what she says about negotiating… “I’m not someone who is demanding. I’m conversational.” Because God help us all if a woman actually IS demanding. God help us if we don’t internalize the message, over and over and over again, that women must always make themselves smaller, that we must not be too talkative or too smart or too demanding or too emotional. And even then, if we follow all of those rules, we still won’t get the raise. Because it’s actually not about who is “demanding” and who isn’t. It’s about how women are devalued at every level of every society.

Variety Power of Women LA

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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21 Responses to “Priyanka Chopra lost a role because she had ‘the wrong physicality’ (i.e., brown skin)”

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  1. Rhys says:

    So they envisioned someone tall, blue-eyed and blond for this role? She should be mad they wasted her time but it’s the way things are in the industry. I did modeling. You go to every audition you get and most of the time there’s nothing you can do to make the casting director pick you – they just have something else in mind.

    • N.L. says:

      I agree. Sometimes roles have particular ethnicities behind them because of the setting of the story. That’s precisely why ScarJo In Ghost In The Shell was so ridiculous.

      You’re going to miss roles as an actress because you’re sometimes not right for the part due to the fact that the movie would literally make no sense if they used you (again, how awful Ghost In The Shell was), but no one can say that any longer, so they have to codify the language.

      It’s asinine to think that Hollywood has to write bland plots where people can be interchangeably substituted. There would be no period movies, no historical movies, no movies set in other countries that ever made sense.

  2. Xena says:

    Love how she drags Bollywood into the discussion. Sure, Gender pay equality is bad in America, but in my home country full of brown people it’s much worse. Always singing for your supper Priya…keep it up!

  3. Nivi says:

    There are lots of Hot White Actresses who can’t act i.e. Amber Heard who can’t act to save her life but she is in a big budget Superhero Movie. Priyanka is much better actor than her.

  4. Millennial says:

    Now I’m really curious what movie that was. I wish more producers instituted (real) colorblind casting.

    • Genessee says:

      It’s not just the producers. It’s the agents themselves. I worked at a third-tier talent agency a while ago and this agency had a lot (A LOT) of black actresses on their roster. I remember one time a casting call went out for an African-American actress to work in a police procedural and guess whose resume and headshot got sent along with the small handful of available black actresses the agents deemed “worthy” of being considered? The white, blue-eyed daughter of the head of the talent agency. Only a small handful of black actresses had their headshots/resumes pulled for consideration, debated on, and deemed “worthy” of being included in the package sent back to the production office. And I’m not talking about no-names. I mean ACTUAL TV/FILM actresses that we would all recognize.

      And that happened WITH ALL casting calls of whatever minority. Asian? Include the daughter. Hispanic? Include the daughter. I saw the casting calls. It was part of my job to pick them up, take it to the agents, they would read them, request headshots, and I’d take them the headshots/resumes so they could determine who was “appropriate” to send. The daughter was NEVER a good fit for almost any of the roles, age wise, race wise, talent wise, etc. But in this town connections count…and yes, minorities will be screwed in favor of those connections.

      And from what I can remember, that role did not end up going to a black actress as was requested in the casting call.

  5. Taxi says:

    She annoys me so much. I saw her in the first couple of episodes of Quantico & think she’s a terrible actress. She grandstands & her style of self-promotion is distasteful. Subtlety is definitely not in her range. So she’s “too brown?” For what role? For a Nordic/Icelandic part, yes. Irish? Yes. Hard to infer prejudice without knowing the story/setting/plot. On the other hand, if a story was about a South American, Middle Easterner, Pakistani or Indian, brown is perfect & no pale/pink/blond-redheads with light eyes should bother reading. It’s pretty hard for non-Japanese/ Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese to be convincingly portrayed by non-Orientals.
    Every actor has limits but most don’t whine so much.

    • Meggles says:

      No, it’s not hard to infer prejudice. Racism is absolutely endemic to the entertainment industry (and often very very blatant) and white is still very much the default. Most CDs and producers still think if a character’s ethnicity is not stated it means they are white, and half the time even if it is explicitly non-white they’ll cast a white actor or the lightest non-white actor they can find!

      Playing devil’s advocate going “well maybe hypothetically the character was Icelandic!!” doesn’t benefit anyone. Really. I’ve just read a page of comments elsewhere with people twisting themselves into knots trying to prove why Starbucks calling the cops and having two black men arrested for sitting quietly minding their own business is not racist. Why do people feel such a desperation to deny and downplay or excuse racism?

      Oh and there are non-white people living in Ireland and in Scandinavian countries.

    • Anna says:

      Oh and by the way @Taxi your racism and ignorance is showing since the term “Oriental” is well-known as offensive with regard to people (only for carpets) so maybe a little education and getting up to speed would be helpful for you.

  6. lucy2 says:

    I wasn’t that impressed with her as an actress, but she sounds very smart with her money, and I like that she’s moved into producing. Plus she’s stunning, and wisely getting endorsement deals.

    “Physicality” definitely reads as code word for “wrong skin color”.
    @Taxi, if the role is for someone who needs to look “Nordic” as it’s important to the story, fine – but don’t bring her in to read then, be very specific in the request. If she’s brought in and they took her time to audition and their time to watch her, she should have a fair shot, as should anyone brought in, regardless of race and skin color.

    • Tata Mata says:

      “Physicality” for certain acting parts mean your body has to look the part to a certain degree. That can be height, weight, age, skin colour, muscle, ethnicity and whatever. People complained that Scarlet Johannson played an asian lady so basically ScarJo had the wrong physicality for the part. A small-framed skinny actor who is just 1,50m can’t play a heavyweight boxing champion because those guys are usually at least 1,80m and more than 200lbs.
      Coco Chanel can’t be played by Leslie Jones because Coco was small and petite and white and Jones is big and black and tall. that isn’t racism but physicality.

      And as long as we don’t know which part Chopra lost one can’t say it was racism nor can we put it down to the wrong physicality.

      • Dally says:

        Except clearly this was for a role where the description did not explicitly exclude Chopra’s “physicality”, but the subtext of who the casting agent or whoever was picturing in the role did not include her “physicality.” Which is an area that is very ripe for discrimination.

  7. Tan says:

    I think priyanka is a very good actor, dependingon roles. She hams a lot in Quantico but right from her second mivie role in bollywood where she played a villain, she was a screen stealer.

    Most recently, her role as kashibai in baaji rao mastani has been wonderful, she literallywaljed away with all accolades despite not being lead.

    On topic, she broke through a notoriouslysexist and nepotism filled industry, girl has seen things and is excellent at networking and fiercely ambitious

  8. Tamara says:

    She’s actually a great actress – have you seen some of her Bollywood movies? She’s won the National Award (the only legit acting award in the Indian film industry) for a movie called Fashion (a gritty expose on the fashion industry) and was recently excellent in a supporting role in Bajirao Mastani, a period film. She’s just playing to the masses with Quantico, Baywatch, etc. which she’s also done in Bollywood but if she’s given the right role she can really shine. She also puts her money where her mouth is – she’s started a production company that has focused on regional, non Hindi language Indian films and unusual scripts that wouldn’t really see the light of day unless they had a big name attached. Sorry to sound like a fan girl haha but I feel like the Hollywood version of Priyanka doesn’t even cover half of her capabilities!

  9. Linz says:

    I’ve been watching Priyanka’s movies since Andaaz, back in 2003. From the get-go, I thought she was beautiful, and she could not act to save her life.

    Fashion is the film that people often discuss when they want to prove she’s talented. She was great in Fashion — but her role was designed to be over the top, even for a film industry that inclines toward a style of acting that is much more dramatic and stylized than Hollywood. So, yeah. She did a fine job in that role. Unfortunately, she brings the same exact style to everything else she does, and it doesn’t work for most of her Hindi films, much less for Quantico and the like, which adhere to a more subdued manner of emoting.

    All this to say, I’ll admit that when I saw this headline, I thought, “So, seems like racism was at play here — OR, just as possible, seems like they just didn’t want to tell you that your audition sucked because you’re not a very good actor.”

  10. Linz says:

    ALSO I would like to add that there’s a bit of irony here in Priyanka raising the issue of “physicality” — she was in a series of really gross commercials back in the day for Ponds, in which she played a girl whose skin was “too dark” to hold the attention of her beloved, who in turn ditched her for a fairer-skinned girl. Then Priyanka uses a skin-bleaching product called “White Beauty” to lighten her skin, and lo, the guy falls in love with her again. You can look on youtube for the series of ads but I don’t know if the Hindi portions are subtitled. Here’s an article about it, http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2008/07/25/alls-not-fair-in-fairness-cream-advertising/