Beautiful and brilliant, Chloe Bennet has stolen the hearts of Marvel fans all over the world. In her role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., she's become a seismically powerful Inhuman who dares to take a stand against injustice, and an indisputable fan-favorite. What's more, the three arcs of Season 4 have seen Chloe Bennet push her acting skills to the next level.
Behind the scenes, though, Chloe Bennet's story is just as fascinating as Quake's. After all, as a Chinese-American, she belongs to a group who are under-represented in Hollywood, and yet she's become the star of a Marvel TV show. In a recent interview, Chloe Bennet lifted the lid on her own experience of Hollywood — and why Marvel has proved so very different...
From Chloe Wang To Chloe Bennet
Returning to Los Angeles after launching a successful career as a Chinese pop star (seriously), Chloe Wang found her first experiences of Hollywood interesting, to say the least. She focused on roles that weren't scripted for any particular ethnicity, or roles that were Asian; but the feedback she got was deeply frustrating. On the one hand, she was told she wasn't white enough to be the lead; on the other, that she wasn't Asian enough for other roles! Reflecting on this, Chloe realizes just how universal this was — so much so, that she actually began to accept it rather than recognize the implicit racism.
Frustrated, she chose to change her name. It's important to understand how powerful an act this is; in China, your surname is a thing to be honored. In fact, a common child's oath is to swear by their surname. Chloe clearly knew that this decision would be a hard one for her Chinese father in particular to accept, and yet she found another way to honor him; she took his first name, Bennet, as her new surname. It's a beautiful touch, and suggests the strength of Chloe's family bonds.
I have to say that this, above anything else, shows the scale of the problem Hollywood faces in terms of diversity. We know that Chloe is a talented actress — yet she had to change her name just to get a chance. It's a decision that's clearly proven controversial; now that she's famous, Chloe has been told she's "running from her Chinese culture." Chloe refuses to accept that, and frankly, the honor she showed to her father in choosing that surname suggests that the reality is much more complex. Chloe wanted to be viewed as a person in her own right, as more than just her racial identity, and that's why she changed her surname.
Marvel Has Proved Very Different
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though, has proven to be a very different experience. One of the producers, Maurissa Tancharoen, is an Asian-American, whose surname is of Thai origin. Meanwhile, Chloe isn't the only major Asian actress in the show; another of the stars is Ming Na-Wen, who plays Agent May.
That said, there's something remarkable about Chloe Bennet's character, Daisy Johnson. As Chloe reflects:
"They created my character around my ethnicity."
Looking back at Quake's story in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is pretty eye-opening. When we first met Quake as computer-hacker Skye, she was something of a blank slate; her backstory was a mystery, and she was desperately seeking out her parents. The answers came in Season 2, where we met Quake's parents, and Marvel deliberately chose to acknowledge Chloe's mixed-race heritage in the design. She was revealed to be the daughter of classic villain Mr. Hyde, and the Inhuman Jiaying — and that in itself was pretty remarkable.
It's important to realize that, in the comics, the character of Quake may have been Mr. Hyde's daughter, but she hadn't originally been designed with a mixed-race heritage. Marvel was actually willing to show respect to their character's ethnicity by making subtle alterations to the original comic book design. Given how particular fans often are about never seeing their characters changed, that's a refreshingly bold move on Marvel's part.
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It's clear that Chloe Bennet's had a difficult journey in Hollywood, and sadly racism seems to have been a key part of that. That said, I'm delighted to see that Chloe's experience at Marvel has been so very, very different. All too often we talk about the problems at Hollywood, and spend our time criticizing bad practice; as important as that may be, though, sometimes it's good to take a step back and acknowledge when a company has actually done a good job. In this case, Marvel has; and as a result, a superb actress has been allowed to step forward and develop her career.
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