Gemma Chan responds to critics of her Mary Queen of Scots role
Gemma Chan is taking on internet trolls who criticized her casting as Bess of Hardwick, one of Elizabeth I’s most beloved ladies-in-waiting, in Mary Queen of Scots.
Released in December, the historical drama was notable for its broadly diverse cast, which featured actors across a wide range of races and ethnicities taking on historically white roles. This was an effort spearheaded by director Josie Rourke, who as a director at London’s Donmar Warehouse was noted for her color-blind and gender-bending productions, such as an all-female Julius Caesar.
“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,” Chan said in a new cover interview with Allure. “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.”
Chan pointed to changing representations of characters across media as a sign that more casting of this nature should be embraced. “I feel like Hamilton opened minds a lot. We have a black man playing George Washington,” she remarked. “They describe it as ‘America then, told by America now.’ And I think our art should reflect life now. And life then, too.”
The actress also spoke to her own sense of “compound” identity. Though Chan is of Chinese heritage, she was born in Britain, and she told Allure, “I feel British, and European, and English, and Chinese, and Asian.”
After majorly breaking out in last summer’s Crazy Rich Asians, Chan can currently be seen on screen in a supporting role in Captain Marvel.