Love them or loathe them, romantic comedies have impacted many of us in some way or another. For years on end, cheesy chick flicks have sparked sexual awakenings, alleviated pain during a breakup, or even helped shape one's worldview of love (within reason).
But rom-coms have also looked the same for a long time. Two white people fall head over heels for one another, while people of colour (POC) simply play the best friend or villain.
Over the last few years, the discussion advocating for greater cultural diversity in Hollywood has ramped up, and we've seen more POC stepping into lead character roles. Rom-com, Love Again, is one of the most recent examples. Starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas as the female lead opposite Sam Heughan, Chopra Jonas plays Mira Ray, an illustrator who deals with the loss of her fiancé by sending text messages to his old phone number. Little does she know that his number was reassigned to journalist Rob Burns' (Heughan) new work phone.
Speaking to Refinery29, Indian-born Chopra Jonas says Hollywood's rom-com genre has rarely catered for the appetite of South Asian women like herself until very recently. While she'd been acting in India's film industry, Bollywood — known for its spectacular love stories — since 2002, the concept of becoming a heroine in a Western rom-com was very foreign at the start.
"I will say the journey to get here wasn't easy for me, and I enjoyed a tremendous, amazing career back in India when I started looking for work in Hollywood," says the 40-year-old.
"It was difficult for people to comprehend a brown girl being in this very, very specific genre which has not been enjoyed by us [South Asians] in English-language entertainment. Of course, we have romantic comedies in Hindi-language entertainment, but we don't have leads in this genre [in Hollywood] specifically that are Indian."
The media and entertainment industry is very powerful in communicating ideals about the world and where we fit into it. For many South Asian women, including myself, seeing a lack of brown women in lead romantic roles in Hollywood has often made us feel unseen, and perhaps not as beautiful or as worthy of love as our white counterparts. It makes Chopra Jonas' casting in Love Again all the more important.
Chopra Jonas made her leap from Bollywood to Hollywood in 2015 in American thriller drama series, Quantico. She's been part of larger casts in comedies Baywatch and Isn't It Romantic, and also stars in the recently-released Amazon Prime action-thriller TV series, Citadel. But Love Again is her first Hollywood rom-com where she's the leading lady navigating grief and romance — and all that in an interracial dating context.
"I do think it's path-breaking," says Chopra Jonas. "And I do think that being able to do this movie, being approached for it, and having this incredible experience working with this collaboration of actors, was great."
But she also believes there's more work to be done. Indian creatives already contribute to behind-the-scenes production in Hollywood, so why are they being held back from getting long-overdue screen time?
"We definitely need to see a lot more Indian representation in entertainment... we have an incredibly huge, robust film industry in India, [in fact] multiple film industries in India, that provide technical support to a lot of Hollywood movies. So it's high time we see a lot more representation."
Chopra Jonas has always been passionate about greater cultural representation. In March, she and manager, Anjula Acharia, hosted the South Asian Excellence Pre-Oscars Celebration. At the event, she said it was important to not only celebrate the recent achievements of South Asians in Hollywood, but acknowledged the work of South Asians who've fought stereotypes in the past to pave the way for more authentic representation.
Season 2 of Bridgerton starring Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran, Netflix's Never Have I Ever series created by Mindy Kaling, and action flick, Polite Society are recent examples of Hollywood embracing the lead brown woman. Chopra Jonas hopes these projects cumulatively signal the need for more Indians in front of the camera.
"I hope this movie [Love Again], my other show Citadel and with a lot of other work where you're seeing Indian talent in the forefront, that we will be able to enjoy the space that we deserve in entertainment."
Love Again, starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sam Heughan and Celine Dion, releases in cinemas on May 10th..