Modern Day Heroine: Gemma Chan — Monumental Wins in Hollywood

We’ve reached 2019 and it’s about goddamn time to break out of the all-white TV/film shows and embrace diversity because there’s so much more kick-ass, talented, actors of different race and colors that are deserving of space, stories, narratives, and representation on screen.

Gemma Chan is one of the women that’s been making waves in Hollywood since the uptick of Asian actors rise when the Golden Globe nominee rom-com, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ had its debut. She played the supporting role of Astrid and suddenly became the modern day heroine we never thought we needed.

Previously the actress appeared in hit BBC show Sherlock, Fresh Meat, sci-fi drama Humans, blockbusters Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and Transformers: The Last Knight. However, Gemma gained further recognition when she landed in Crazy Rich Asians.  It wasn’t until this that she earned a monumental recognition globally for all of her hard work since. And that was just the beginning of her skyrocketing fame because this year she struck us under big names with hard-hitting roles as Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel and Bess of Hardwick in Mary Queen of Scots.

Chan’s almost always glammed up which makes her look intimidating reeking off a high-society aura, dripping in finesse and wit (she’s Oxford graduate after all) but the former fashion model’s posh and glamour outwardly doesn’t equate to how inexplicably grounded, inspiring, empowering she is. Though Gemma’s continuously taken up space in mainstream culture, she still transparently shares challenges and criticisms she faces being Asian in Hollywood.

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Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Nonetheless, Gemma Chan’s a force to be reckoned with. Remember when she said, “We want a seat at the table?” Here are her top 3 moments of breaking boundaries:

Astrid Leong is a step towards representation.

Her supporting role as Astrid Leong on CRA was such a big win. Gemma Chan disrupted the narratives often imposed on Asian women in popular culture erasing all of the outdated and dry stereotypes or the overly sexualized submissive character who must remain a pushover. Instead, she’s shown a different flair of allure in Astrid who delivered vulnerability and bravery in such a flawless manner. In an interview, she opened up:

“I think all of us knew that this film was going to be something bigger than ourselves. The depiction of Asian women has been somewhat problematic in the past… And with these characters, women being the proactive agents of their own lives and their own destinies, I hope that it opens the door for more diverse stories to be told. I hope that it affects the treatment of Asians and minorities, so that it has a direct effect on representation in popular culture, and the way minorities are treated in life—whether they’re otherized or normalized, it has a direct impact on that.”

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Photography by Paola Kudacki

Minn-Erva a step towards diversity.

We can say Gemma’s one of the brightest faces in Hollywood today that used to severely lack Asian representation. And I absolutely applaud that not only does she play characters we can relate to and be proud of, but she’s also joined a Marvel film playing a Kree warrior, Minn-Erva, in Captain Marvel, one of only two female characters on the actors’ pool. That’s massive! We don’t always see this and Chan recounts her experience, she said:

“I think the industry is changing and shifting. I actually didn’t know what I was auditioning for then. It’s so top secret. It was very different from any other job that I’ve done. I enjoyed the physical challenge of it. I had to train for it. I loved working with Brie Larson and the rest of the cast. They’re all brilliant. I think the caliber of the people and the talent that Marvel can attract is what’s really attractive to me… It was fun to play something completely different. I think Marvel’s got such an amazing team. An incredible amount of work goes into it, and they really took care.”

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Photography by Paola Kudacki

Bess of Hardwick is a step towards respecting visibility.

Gemma acknowledges that playing an English notable character, Bess of Hardwick in Mary Queen of Scots does still present itself criticisms. Many took issue with her playing Queen Elizabeth’s confidante in the period piece because she isn’t white. ‘Who would play you in the film of your life?’ ‘Scarlett Johansson! Just kidding,’ Gemma exclaims. She is not backing down and still manages to clap back. In an cover shoot with Allure:

“Why are actors of color, who have fewer opportunities anyway, only allowed playing 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. John Wayne played Genghis Khan. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick… If people understood that, my parents have been told, ‘Go home, go back to where you came from’ multiple times. If we portray a pure white past, people start to believe that’s how it was, and that’s not how it was.”

Growing up Chan was self-conscious about being Asian despite her achievements. Her dad even told her, “doesn’t matter how good you are or how talented you are — how many faces do you see on the screen that look like ours?” wherein she explained, “I just wanna be part of a change.”

What made her different became all her strength. Gemma playing Astrid is a step towards representation. Gemma playing Minn-Erva is a step towards diversity. Gemma playing Bess of Hardwick is a step towards respecting visibility. Her media prominence will definitely be one that’s gonna stay further down the line. Proud of her feminist centric roles and storylines that champions us all! She successfully did become part of a change.

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Photography by Miles Aldridge

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