By Mackenna Cummings
Priyanka Chopra, the current star of the ABC series Quantico, has risen well beyond her title as the lead actress of a television series. Success is important to her, but so is changing the world, which why she is making great strides not only in the entertainment industry but also as a humanitarian.
When she was young, Chopra dreamed of being an aeronautical engineer, but it was her success in pageants that gave her confidence. She struggled with insecurities and bullying due to her darker skin and ethnicity, but much of that changed in 2000 when she was crowned Miss World. This title helped her career path as well as showed her how instrumental her voice and presence in entertainment could be. She quickly became an empowering figure to women of color, and she continues to use her success as an advocate for equality, diversity, and positive change.
At 17 years old, Chopra found herself with multiple opportunities ahead, having just won Miss World. She turned to film and music. One of her earliest roles was in a commercial for a skin lightening product. It was shortly after this that she realized she had just become an advocate for something that caused her insecurities when she was young. Chopra knew she could use her voice and celebrity status for much more positive impacts around the world. She had a heart and drive to make a difference.
“I couldn’t change the world, but I could contribute toward change,” she says. “One person cannot eradicate poverty, but I realized that [with] the platform that I had, whatever I said would be spoken about, would be written about.” It was through this that she has found a multitude of ways to champion for others. As one person doing something she can inspire countless more to also change the world. Now, when girls and women approach her in appreciation for the representation she brings to television and the strength she gives them through her success, she says she feels that insecure girl she was quake inside.
Chopra credits her parents for much of her success, saying she comes from a family of overachievers. Both of her parents were doctors in the army. While she was raised in a small town in India where most girls were not given the opportunity of an education in favor of marriage, her parents encouraged her to study and strive for success. This support was crucial for her drove her to start The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, which allows 70 children in India to have access to medical coverage and education. A personal experience inspired her to support such a cause. When it came to her attention that, due to expenses, the daughter of her family’s housekeeper was not being sent to school while the son was, she immediately paid for the young girl’s tuition. But Chopra did not stop there. She knew she could do more. “Education has always been very important to me. It means you don’t have to depend on anyone else,” she says. These children now have mobility and options because of her passion and awareness.
Her humanitarian efforts extend beyond her own foundation. In 2016, she was appointed UNICEF’s Global Goodwill Ambassador but had been involved with UNICEF for nearly ten years prior. “My wish for children is freedom. The freedom to think, the freedom to live,” she said when she was appointed. Chopra has spent many years working to help others, particularly girls who have not been given many opportunities. She says she has “experienced firsthand the transformative power of empowering young girls with opportunities that are rightfully theirs.”
With the knowledge that changing the world can be achieved through giving these young girls a voice and access to education, Chopra has met with children victims of abuse in Zimbabwe, and Syrian refugees in Jordan, and supported the programs in place to help the youth recover from trauma and be empowered. She even utilized social media for her recent UNICEF trip, and these posts ranked her number one for a period of time among other celebrities, guaranteeing that her hope to contribute to change by getting others to also contribute is working. She is raising awareness not only of problems for youth globally but also about the programs already in place to help, programs that can change the world with the support a voice like Chopra’s.
Chopra also serves as a Girl Up Champion for the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign. She raises awareness and funds for UN programs that provide girls around the world with life-changing opportunities, like the chance to go to school, see a doctor, and stay safe from violence.
“As a Champion for Girl Up, I am lending my voice to a cause that is very close to me. I come from a country where girls are not treated fairly—many girls are kept out of school, get married at a young age, and don’t have access to health services,” she says. “I joined Girl Up because I firmly believe in the campaign’s mission, that every girl, no matter where she is born, should grow up safe, healthy and empowered. Every girl should have the opportunity to reach her full potential.”
When she is not traveling to help children and young women, she continues to break barriers in her own field. Chopra is relentless, to her, “success is a journey, you have to be consistently successful to be called successful.”
Choosing the role of Alex Parrish in Quantico was a very particular choice for her in fighting for equal representation and diversity. “I did not want to be the stereotype of either Bollywood or what Indian actors are [usually offered]. The exotic, beautiful girl, or the academically inclined nerd. And I wanted to play a lead…. And I’m playing an FBI agent on Quantico. I didn’t settle for less,” she said of her starring role.
She hopes to make diversity normal as opposed to a novelty,knowing that once it is, then equality can truly gain traction. So long as it is a novelty, people of diverse backgrounds are limited by the stereotypes and associations of society rather than their skills. “Celebrating our differences doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to be different,” Chopra says. “Celebrating our differences is being proud of where you come from but engulfing other people who are different than you into your world.”
Chopra is an outspoken feminist and champion for diversity, with a goal to educate rather than be angry when someone is misinformed. Through everything Chopra does, these priorities are clear: As a humanitarian, she is giving opportunities of education and independence to many, and as a celebrity, she is using her voice to advocate and encourage others to do the same.