Meghan Markle has been making headlines lately thanks to her romance with Prince Harry, but there is so much more to her than her high-profile love life. The Suits star penned a piece for Elle discussing the challenges she has faced growing up as a biracial woman and how she’s managed to navigate life and Hollywood on her own terms.
Markle says that her ambiguous look has been a double-edged sword when it comes to casting. “Being ‘ethnically ambiguous,’ as I was pegged in the industry, meant I could audition for virtually any role. Morphing from Latina when I was dressed in red, to African-American when in mustard yellow; my closet filled with fashionable frocks to make me look as racially varied as an ’80s Benetton poster. Sadly, it didn’t matter: I wasn’t black enough for the black roles, and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job.”
Markle’s difficulties as far as her race when it came to casting made her more excited than ever to join the cast of Suits. She mentions the producers, who didn’t have a particular ethnicity in mind for her character Rachel, using them as an example of how Hollywood can diversify their casting process if they look for someone who is good for the role when possible, as opposed to having a fixed image.
“The series was initially conceived as a dramedy about a N.Y. law firm flanked by two partners, one of whom navigates this glitzy world with his fraudulent degree. Enter Rachel Zane, one of the female leads and the dream girl — beautiful and confident with an encyclopedic knowledge of the law. ‘Dream girl’ in Hollywood terms had always been that quintessential blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty — that was the face that launched a thousand ships, not the mixed one. But the show’s producers weren’t looking for someone mixed, nor someone white or black for that matter. They were simply looking for Rachel. In making a choice like that, the Suits producers helped shift the way pop culture defines beauty. The choices made in these rooms trickle into how viewers see the world, whether they’re aware of it or not. Some households may never have had a black person in their house as a guest, or someone biracial. Well, now there are a lot of us on your TV and in your home with you. And with Suits, specifically, you have Rachel Zane. I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
Markle mentions that once the ethnicity of her character Rachel became more clearly defined after producers cast Wendell Pierce as her father, the backlash from some Suitsfans was a reminder that we still have a long way to go in terms of some audiences accepting people of color in three-dimensional roles, or as full human beings and not racist tropes. “I remember the tweets when that first episode of the Zane family aired, they ran the gamut from: ‘Why would they make her dad black? She’s not black’ to ‘Ew, she’s black? I used to think she was hot.’ The latter was blocked and reported. The reaction was unexpected but speaks of the undercurrent of racism that is so prevalent, especially within America.”
In a recent interview with Complex, model Sofia Richie touched on the racism she sees in Los Angeles and how her light complexion and blond hair makes her the target of racist comments, because people look at her and don’t think she’s black. “I’m very light, so some people don’t really know that I’m black. I’ve been in situations where people will say something kind of racist and I’ll step in and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, well, you’re light,” she said. “That still doesn’t cut it, buddy. It’s 2016 — you better get your s*** together before you get slapped out here.”
Markle doesn’t touch on the fact that women who look like her and Richie are privileged in that their proximity to whiteness is valued more in our society. Richie’s comment is a reminder that there are still those prejudices, and they can rear their ugly heads when people don’t see you as part of a certain demographic. Still, Hollywood is slowly making changes when it comes to diversity, at least on television — just look at the 2017 Golden Globe nominees.
“While my mixed heritage may have created a gray area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that,” Markle writes. “To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman. That when asked to choose my ethnicity in a questionnaire as in my seventh-grade class, or these days to check ‘Other,’ I simply say: ‘Sorry, world, this is not Lost and I am not one of the Others. I am enough exactly as I am.’”