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Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: Watch One Man Rage Against... Priyanka Chopra?!

By Tori Preston | Miscellaneous | February 20, 2018 |

By Tori Preston | Miscellaneous | February 20, 2018 |

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Here’s the thing: Sometimes actors just rub you the wrong way. Me, I can’t stand Daniel Day-Lewis. Not as a person — I’m sure he’s a perfectly fine human being. But there was a particular period in the 90s when every movie I rented came with the trailer for The Last of the Mohicans on it. Which meant that every VHS tape I put in my VCR seemed designed to foist that goddamn waterfall scene on me, over and over. I see his face and all I can think of is him soaking wet and yelling “I WILL FIND YOU!” Honestly, it still makes me shudder.

Because of that, I have deliberately chosen to not watch any movie he’s in. Ever. No matter how many people love it or how many awards he/it wins. I’m not saying I’m right, or that my life choice to avoid his entire body of work is a rational response given the fairly innocuous circumstance of seeing one particular trailer too many times as a child. But it works for me. Point is — I get how sometimes you just can’t stand a particular actor.

That said… this person should maybe chill the fuck out.

Do you think Priyanka Chopra’s starpower in Hollywood is overestimated by diversity advocates? After Baywatch, I’ve developed a dislike of her, because I feel like she and her PR team have helped perpetuate a false narrative that she’s a bigger star than she is which I don’t like seeing at all. There’s no question inclusivity remains a pressing issue, but there’s a sense the industry is trying to hoist Chopra up onto a Hollywood pedestal too soon when she hasn’t earned her place there yet and her Hollywood career may suffer for it. Getting Marie Claire to label her “Hollywood’s Most Bankable Badass” without any statistical support feels like 15 minutes strategizing than long term planning. Something that irked me was that a supposed big deal was made over her casting as the villain in the Baywatch movie because they liked the idea of a woman of color as the lead villain. Not only do I think no one had any other real reason to care about a villain in a Baywatch movie, but was her casting as the villain really about diversity or was it mostly about banking on her name and face to sell the movie overseas, with her casting as the villain designed to make her stand out from the other girls in the cast? Frankly, her performance was bland, generic and humorless, which would have been considered a strike for a supposed comedy had that performance been given by anyone else. As far as I’m concerned, the only one that seemed cast in the name of diversity in that movie was Ilfenesh Hadera and the movie completely shafted her. Do you think diversity advocates sometimes have difficulty understanding the difference between diversity casting and foreign box office baiting?

Before I start unpacking this dumpster-fire of a question, I want to let you all know that I initially dismissed it way back in October when it first came in. Partly because it seemed like some guy was trying to get us to help him intellectualize his racism, and partly because the underlying question just didn’t make any sense to me. Do diversity advocates have difficulty understanding the difference between diversity casting and foreign box office baiting? Um, sometimes there is no difference. SOMETIMES THEY’RE THE SAME THING! Like, say, in this exact instance. So I read the email… and then ignored it. We had plenty of other questions to tackle, ones that were by and large actually asking for advice rather than Hollywood casting speculation, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

But then we talked about Gal Gadot last week. I mean, I can only assume that was the trigger, because shortly after that column ran I received the above message for the second time. And you know what? Fine, dude. Fine. You clearly REALLY want us to explain Priyanka Chopra’s career to you, so badly that you sent us the same question TWICE. So fuck it. Let’s do this thing — point by fucking point. You ready?

- I don’t know who these shadowy “diversity advocates” are that you keep referring to, but having worked in film and television for a decade I can tell you that if they DO exist, they don’t really have a say in the room where it happens. Sure, producers and casting directors may take into consideration the blow-back that might occur on social media if they have a lily-white or all-male cast, but I mean… it’s not like that keeps them from whitewashing roles anyway! On the other hand, they absofuckinglutely DO consider the foreign box office potential of their cast. Because you know what matters most in Hollywood? MONEY. Sometimes that means hiring Jackie Chan to crack the Chinese market. Sometimes that means hiring Tom Cruise. But the reality is that foreign box office is a huge factor in deciding which projects move forward, and even which sequels get greenlit. And it works both ways! Why do you think Matt Damon ended up in The Great Wall?

And as far as Baywatch itself is concerned… well, the movie literally made twice as much money internationally as it did domestically. Foreign box office receipts are all that made it profitable! With a budget of $69 million, its domestic gross of $58 million would have kept the film in the red. Instead, all told it brought in nearly $178 million. Sure, I’m betting a lot of that is because The Rock is bankable overseas, just like Chopra. Mostly though? It’s probably because Baywatch was one of the most watched TV shows in the goddamn world.

- Is there a false narrative that Chopra is a bigger star than she is, perpetuated by her PR/management? Well, look. If there IS, then that’s literally what an actor pays their team to fucking DO. Managers, agents, publicists — they’re hype people! They get stars in magazines, they build a profile, they get them noticed — then they use all that to get their clients a higher paycheck (which they take a cut of). You’re upset because there’s no “statistical support” for Marie Claire’s assertion that Chopra is “Hollywood’s Most Bankable Badass”? I’m sorry, what study of “badassery” should they have referenced? Is it from the same think tank that helped People Magazine name Blake Shelton their “Sexiest Man Alive” last year? I think we can safely assume that those sorts of headlines on glossy mags are hyperbolic nonsense designed to sell issues and move on, yeah?


Regardless, in fact there is NOT a false narrative around Chopra. I can’t say whether she’s on a Hollywood pedestal, but she has absolutely earned her shot at stardom. She is an accomplished and highly-paid actor in India, with over a decade of experience and about 50 credits to her name — all of which someone in LA must have recognized because they hired her for the lead role in ABC’s Quantico in 2015, a role that wasn’t written for a South Asian actress, but ended up making her the first South Asian actress to headline an American network series. You might not like her, but that role alone makes her a significant face of diversity in Hollywood in addition to being a bankable star abroad. Which brings me to…

- Was her casting as the Baywatch villain about diversity or was it mostly about banking on her name and face to sell the movie overseas? Look, you claim her casting was hyped as a “diversity” move, to set the film apart by having a woman of color play the baddie. I didn’t find any articles making those claims, so that point could be an assumption you’re making — though I did find a Forbes piece acknowledging how nice it is to have a famous actress cast as an opponent rather than love interest. Per Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s own Instagram post announcing her casting, it sounds like she was hired because… she’s an international star, she’s talented, and she’s “smokin’” hot. THIS IS FUCKING BAYWATCH WE’RE TALKING ABOUT! If you set aside her career and talent and all other considerations, you’re still left with Priyanka Chopra, one of the most beautiful women in the world. Is it any wonder she’d be cast in a film based on a TV show that’s mostly famous for women “slo-mo running on the beach” (as The Rock put it)? Like, do you really need us to explain why she’d be cast in motherfuckin’ Baywatch? LOOK AT HER.

I’m sorry you didn’t like her performance but did you actually like the rest of the movie? Because c’mon, dude, it’s got an 18% Tomatometer rating and I’m pretty sure that’s not all on her shoulders. Maybe the writing sucked? Or the directing? Maybe the film had a lot of problems, and pinning everything on Priyanka Chopra isn’t fair? All I know is that while having a “diverse” woman play a lead role was surely a bonus for the film, I’d put money on the deciding factor being her bankability overseas. That, and her hotness. But more than that, this concept you seem to have that making casting decisions based on “diversity” is somehow separate from “foreign box office baiting” is flawed. Sure, sometimes people of color are cast even though they don’t have name recognition overseas. And sometimes international talent is cast to improve the chances that a film will crack through in other markets. Sometimes a casting decision works on both levels. And sometimes Tom Cruise keeps getting hired because people everywhere fucking recognize him. At the end of the day, Hollywood is going to do whatever they think will make them the most money — and if it means they can pat themselves on the back for hiring a diverse cast, then that’s just the icing on the cake. Right now we’re just lucky that diversity seems to be paying off. But regardless of the reason for any casting, representation matters on screen and should be celebrated.

So look, if you don’t like the fact that Chopra keeps getting opportunities in Hollywood, do what I do with Daniel Day-Lewis and just DON’T FUCKING WATCH. But at least have the decency to acknowledge that she’s hardly the product of some liberal Hollywood conspiracy to push diversity, or that hiring her can’t be both a boon for diversity and solid box office strategy. She has worked long and hard to get the opportunities she has… and honestly, even in Hollywood that just means she gets to look hot opposite The Rock.

That’s all for this week! And for the love of your Overlords, could y’all please ask us some real advicey-type questions again? We’ll take your hygiene foibles or dating mishaps or racist grandparents. Need recipe recommendations? Looking for ways to wow at your high school reunion, or what kind of porn to watch with your Tinder date? Email it all to us at [email protected]! Either that or I’m going to start talking about my leg hair again, I swear to Jeezus.

Tori Preston is the managing editor of Pajiba. She tweets here. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.