Gemma Chan defends playing a white woman: ‘Why are actors of color only allowed to play their own race?’
Gemma Chan sees no problem in her casting as Bess of Hardwick, a noble white woman who historically became one of the wealthiest women in England during her lifetime.
Chan was criticized for playing the role in the historical drama “Mary Queen of Scots” because of her Asian heritage. The film has been hit for its historical inaccuracies.
The British actress said in an an Allure feature on Tuesday, March 19, “Why are actors of color, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed to play their own race? And sometimes they’re not even allowed to play their own race. In the past, the role would be given to a white actor who would tape up their eyes and do the role in yellowface.”
She added, “John Wayne played Genghis Khan. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick,” she said.
She cited the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton”—which historians have also slammed for its historical inaccuracies—for allowing diverse actors to play white historical figures.
“I feel like ‘Hamilton’ opened minds a lot. We have a black man playing George Washington,” she said.
“I think our art should reflect life now,” she added. She also discussed in the interview how racial minorities, including the Chinese, have been erased from history books.
“If we portray a pure white past, people start to believe that’s how it was, and that’s not how it was,” she said.
Though Chan is Chinese by blood, she said in the interview that she feels “British, and European, and English, and Chinese, and Asian.”
Chan has been advocating for representation of Asians and other minorities in films. She was part of the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood film in over two decades to feature an all-Asian cast. Niña V. Guno /ra
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