Priyanka Chopra: The ABC of Diversity on Television

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Priyanka ChopraWith new shows like Dr. Ken and Quantico, ABC appears to be leading the pack when it comes to racial diversity on television adding to their impressive list of past and present shows with LGBT characters (Grey’s Anatomy, Revenge, Happy Endings, Modern Family and How to Get Away with Murder).

Quantico seems short on common sense and instead focuses on high energy, escapist action to hook the viewer. It is a story of young FBI recruits training at the Quantico base in Virginia and one of them may or may not be a suspected terrorist. One such recruit is a Jewish, openly gay young man Simon Asher (Tate Ellington). We do not yet know whether he is entirely pro-Israel, a Palestinian sympathizer or struggling to reconcile his religious and queer identities with the Israel-Palestine conflict. The pilot episode hinted at a complicated backstory.

Priyanka Chopra, an award-winning actress from India, considered quite the royalty among top-grossing Hindi film actors, plays the lead Alex Parrish. Honestly, it is a strange thrill for me to see an Indian actress as the lead in an American television show. The industry that made Chopra a huge star is as guilty as Hollywood when it comes to diversity and accurate portrayals of alternate sexuality; that’s a whole article in itself.

But Chopra is more than just a light-skinned Indian woman with great hair and Angelina Jolie lips. She is truly talented. She has managed to stay out of gossip and scandal on the strength of her dogged ambition that led her to produce a music album on American soil with videos featuring celebrities like Pitbull and Will.I.Am. She has refused to succumb to cultural pressure to get married and made her career her number one priority. And now here she is, exploding onto primetime Sundays with an opening scene that shows her having casual sex with a stranger in his car. I can imagine the mortified expressions of mothers and aunties in India. But that’s Chopra for you: an unpredictable, sensational go-getter, a living example of how race or gender shouldn’t matter in an industry (Indian or American) plagued by a myopic vision of women’s roles.

For those unfamiliar with Chopra’s work, here’s a primer on the Best of Priyanka:

Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004): One of her early films, a madcap comedy, in which her star wattage totally outshines the two male leads. Barely 21 at the time, the sight of Chopra emerging from sand in the song Kar Doon Kamaal Tere Naal Soniye is equivalent to Bo Derek’s iconic beach scene from 10.

Fashion (2008): Chopra plays a small-town girl who goes on to become a supermodel in the fashion industry. Winning the National Award, India’s equivalent of the Oscar, Chopra rocked the film with an amazing performance.

Kaminey (2009): Here she proved how completely out of bounds she can be in the hands of a great director. She learned a completely different dialect for this role and with only eight scenes walked away with a bagful of awards for it.

Barfi (2012): Chopra’s best performance to date. She plays a young woman with autism who falls in love with a deaf, mute man.

Mary Kom (2014): Chopra learned boxing for this biography of the five-time World Amateur Boxing Champion and Olympian.

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About Author

Anil Vora

Anil Vora is based in Seattle, Washington and is a regular contributor to Bi Magazine. As a result of his series of articles about bisexuality in India, written exclusively for Bi Magazine, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs included bisexual content in their development of a global charter on LGBT rights. He has been a queer activist for more than three decades starting with HIV prevention, treatment, and advocacy issues and is now focusing on the health and wellness of LGBTQ elders.

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