British-Asian actress Parminder Nagra has said she was once turned down for a role on a well-known US TV show because they “already had an Indian person”.
She told a podcast she had also heard producers on an unnamed production say “too many brown people” would not sell.
Nagra made her name in the 2002 UK film Bend It Like Beckham before appearing the American medical drama series ER.
While noting how on-screen diversity had improved, she said she hoped it was not just a quota-filling exercise.
“We’re having the conversations happening more and more and things have moved on,” she told the Celebrity Catch Up podcast.
“My fear is that – which I think was happening a few years ago – it became about, ‘Oh well let’s get this box ticked’,” continued the actress, who lives in Los Angeles.
“I remember asking to go for a job because an actress basically left – it was a well-known TV show here. I remember phoning my agent and I went, ‘Do you think maybe you could just suggest me? The character is very non-specific in terms of family and between 35 and 40 [years of age].
“And the word that came back was that they’ve already got an Indian person on the cast.
“I went, ‘Yeah but I’m completely different to that person’. Is that ever gonna happen when you say that, ‘No we’ve already got a white person on the show’?
“I don’t think that conversation is happening – so it’s just very hard.”
‘Too many brown people’
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2018, Nagra revealed that during the promotion of Bend it Like Beckham, a magazine refused to put her on its cover alongside co-star Keira Knightly because of the colour of her skin.
She told the podcast she had experienced lots of “annoying”, “tiring” and “odd” moments like that in her career. Yet, she said, she was still optimistic that real lasting change could occur.
“I’ve been in rooms where people have gone, ‘Oh that’s not going to sell because there’s just too many brown people in it’, and you go, ‘Oh. OK’,” she continued.
“Do you keep pounding? There’s moments where you get tired and then there’s people that do keep doing that and then they break another glass ceiling.
“You’ve got Riz Ahmed and Priyanka Chopra – they’ve got deals with networks and stuff like that, and so things have moved on.
“But, yeah, that was a story for the books and there was lots of little stories like that.”
Nagra will be seen in her latest role in Sky space drama Intergalactic from Friday.