Gemma Chan has addressed a 2010 episode of Sherlock that was criticised as being racially insensitive.
The actress spoke in a new interview about her casting in the Chinatown-set episode as a stereotypical damsel in distress that some fans and critics had labelled as a tone-deaf exercise in orientalism.
In a Vogue interview Chan explained that she’d spent years taking “every job going – bit parts, one line parts, anything” in order to establish herself as a successful English actress. Tutors at her drama school had warned her that as a British-Asian actress she would struggle to land roles in a period drama-obsessed UK.
But Chan said that she now acknowledges that some of her catch-all choices may have undermined her heritage. “Would I necessarily make the same choices now, if given the choice? Maybe not. I think I would speak up more if I felt that a role was leaning into an orientalist trope of some sort,” she said.
“I’m much more aware. And I think I’m in more of a position where I could say something.”
She continued: “With complete respect to everyone involved… I’m not here to throw shade on anyone… but yeah, I totally hear what you’re saying,” she told the Vogue journalist who, as a South-east Asian woman, said she was “sad” that the Sherlock role was one of only a few Asian roles she’d seen for women on British TV.
“I don’t look down on anyone doing any position or in any job on set,” Chan continued. “The industry has really shifted, even in just the time that I’ve been working. Changing the actual culture – changing in practice – takes longer.”
Earlier this year Chan joined Henry Golding, Rina Sawayama and others in helping to launch a #StopAsianHate campaign in the UK.
Hate crimes against Asian people in London in March 2020 rose by 179 per cent compared to March 2019, according to campaign group Besea.n. Data for the rest of the UK is less accurate but also points to similar increases.
A new campaign was launched in May on GoFundMe to create the East and South East Asian (ESEA) Community Fund, which aims to “help uplift and protect” the ESEA community in the UK.
Chan, Golding and Sawayama are joined in supporting it by the likes of The Matrix 4 star Jessica Henwick, Marvel actor Benedict Wong, musician Sinead Harnett, model, presenter and fashion designer Alexa Chung and more.