How Priyanka Chopra Is Fighting For Representation In Hollywood

Photo: Maarten de Boer/Getty Images
Priyanka Chopra considers herself a global citizen. She's lived in Boston, Canada, California, and, if you couldn't already tell from her skin tone — a feature she has grown to love with time — she calls India home. There was endless access to all things beauty where she grew up, but the road to self-love wasn't always easy.
"I was an academic girl from a small town, so I had to learn everything about beauty by myself," Chopra tells us. "I was 18 when I started acting in India. I didn't understand what 'movie glamour' was about, or makeup, or hair styling. It took me a few years to become a version of myself where I wasn't overdoing everything — the extra eyelashes, the extra jewellery. By the time I came to the States, I was a lot more confident in myself as a woman because I had spent that time on myself and found what worked for me."
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To address the elephant in the room: Yes, Chopra is stupidly gorgeous. Her skin is flawless, her hair is impossibly shiny. It's one of the many reasons why Pantene scooped her up as a brand ambassador last year. But beauty, she says, is subjective — and it's important people recognise that. "In America, everyone's trying to get tan and in Asia, everyone's trying to get lighter," she explains. "The grass is always greener, but the idea is the same: It says beauty comes with changing the skin tone you were born with, and that's a problem all around the world."
Chopra isn't afraid to use her voice. She's showing young women of colour that they can star in a hit TV show like she does as Alex Parrish in Quantico (which returns to ABC on 26th April), speaking out about never settling for stereotypical roles, and doing her part to get more representation for South Asians and women in government, entertainment, and the beauty industry.
Turning Regret Into Opportunity
Chopra isn't afraid to acknowledge the role she once played in promoting skin-lightening creams. "I endorsed one many, many years ago; I was either 24 or 25," she says. "I did it for a year. When I saw it, it made me realise that I was doing exactly what was done to me as a little girl. I realised I made a mistake. I was a kid when I got into this business, so it took me a while to understand what I stand for, and what I can stand for. That was one of those moments where I was like, I don't want to do what was done to me as a kid. This is a choice."
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Instead of sweeping her past under the rug, Chopra is using it as a learning opportunity. "We need to teach people, especially young girls, to be comfortable with what they are born with. Skin tones are what make us beautiful, and I think that's a bigger conversation about not trying to fit some standard of beauty created by someone else. Who made these rules? Who said that's what's beautiful? I always question that."
That's why today, Chopra is working with Pantene on the Go Gentle campaign, which aims to encourage positivity in our online interactions — through a playful take on Mean Tweets.
Maintaining Beauty Traditions
"There are a few things that are traditional to the 5,000-year-old culture that is India that I never used to pay attention to, like oiling," she laughs. "My grandma would sit me down and says, 'I am putting this oil in your hair,' and I would whine, "No, don't do it! I hate it." My mom would be like, 'You have to moisturise your body with coconut oil after you shower.' I would say, 'I don't want to!' I wish I hadn't wasted so much of my energy on fighting them, because now it's all I use. It's so funny."
Also deeply rooted in her heritage? Body, hair, and face masks — all organic, all homemade. "When my mom was younger, she would make a lot of these masks because the sun is really harsh in India and we spend a lot of time outside," Chopra says. "So there are body masks with turmeric and other natural ingredients that really calm the skin. I do those once or twice a week, and it just keeps your skin really soft and helps exfoliate."
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Being An Indian Woman In Hollywood
Beyond her ethnicity, Chopra has also experienced discrimination and bullying for her gender, as well. "Representation is a problem, because our movies don't really depict the world as we see it around us, especially for female characters," she says. "There are less opportunities for women to play incredible roles. And then if you're a woman of colour, that's put you in an even bigger stereotype."
So what does she do? She turns down roles that fit her in a box based on the way she looks. She stands in solidarity with the South Asians in entertainment like Mindy Kahling, Hari Kondabolu, and Kumail Nanjiani in order to break the norm.
"It's also up to people and society to go and watch these movies," she says. With Black Panther and Wonder Woman doing as well as they did, it shows that the audience is standing up and saying, 'We’re ready.' It's a great time for people to delve into doing and making movies and TV shows that represent not just diversity but also women. It comes down to filmmaking and telling great stories, and that should be based on merit — not about ethnicity and gender. When I was growing up and in high school, I never saw anyone who looked like me on TV, but today I do. Hopefully in my lifetime, we’ll see that representation."
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