- Gemma Chan defended portraying Bess of Hardwick, a member of the English nobility, in the 2018 period drama “Mary Queen of Scots.”
- “Why are actors of colour, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed to play their own race?” Chan said during her interview with Allure for the April 2019 cover story. “And sometimes they’re not even allowed to play their own race.”
- Chan added: “In the past, the role would be given to a white actor who would tape up their eyes and do the role in yellowface. John Wayne played Genghis Khan [in “The Conqueror]. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick.”
Gemma Chan starred as Bess of Hardwick in the 2018 Oscar-nominated period drama “Mary Queen of Scots,” and now she’s responding to critics who took issue with the Asian actress playing a white character.
“Why are actors of colour, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed to play their own race?” Chan said during her interview with Allure for the April 2019 cover story. “And sometimes they’re not even allowed to play their own race.”
The actress, who’s of Chinese heritage and was born in London, England, went on to call attention to Hollywood’s history of whitewashing. Specifically, she mentioned John Wayne portraying real-life Mongolian leader Genghis Khan in the 1956 movie “The Conqueror.”
“In the past, the role would be given to a white actor who would tape up their eyes and do the role in yellowface,” Chan said. “John Wayne played Genghis Khan. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick.”
In “Mary Queen of Scots,” Chan’s character was a member of the English nobility and the adviser to Queen Elizabeth I (played by Margot Robbie). The film’s director, Josie Rourke, previously commented on the decision to cast diverse actors in the film. In addition to Chan’s role, Adrian Derrick-Palmer starred as an English man named George Dagleish and Ismael Cruz-Cordova played Mary Stewart’s (Saoirse Ronan) secretary, David Rizzio.
“When I sat down with [the studio] early, before we got down to a lot of stuff, I said to them, ‘Just so you know, I’m not doing to direct an all-white period drama. That’s not something I’m going to do.’ And they were really hugely supportive of that,” Rourke told Refinery 29 in December 2018.
Speaking to Allure, Chan said that she thinks that “art should reflect life now.” She added that shows like “Hamilton,” which cast black actors to portray one of the US’s founding fathers, George Washington, are a step in the right direction.
“I feel like ‘Hamilton’ opened minds a lot,” the “Crazy Rich Asians” star said. “We have a black man playing George Washington. They describe it as ‘America then, told by America now.’ And I think our art should reflect life now.”
- Read more about ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ and Gemma Chan:
- ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ is a fresh, feminist take on a story you think you know and Saoirse Ronan is brilliant
- ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ star Gemma Chan snuck cookies into the Oscars in her dress pockets: ‘You don’t get dinner’
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