Gemma Chan: Breaker of stereotypes

Before she played a blue-skinned alien in Captain Marvel, Gemma Chan portrayed a Peranakan socialite, English noblewoman, and even a robot in various roles—proving her Chinese heritage is no stumbling block to clinching high-profile parts in movies.

Gemma Chan was the personification of poise at the Captain Marvel fan event at Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Valentine’s Day. In town to promote the movie, in which she plays a Kree alien warrior, the Scottish-Chinese actress looked stunning in a navy playsuit by BOSS and every bit the couture queen she is. But the statuesque Chan has made a name for herself not just by looking good, but smashing the stereotypes Asian women are typically tagged with. Here’s how.

1. She portrayed a white noblewoman in Mary Queen of Scots

Chan acted her way into the history books when she portrayed Elizabeth Hardwick, a notable figure in Elizabethan English society, in the 2018 film. “I would never have expected to get cast in a film like this even five years ago,” says Chan of the character she plays—that of a white woman. “I was thrilled to be asked to do a period drama, which for the longest time I was—particularly at the beginning of my career—told that, that was something that would just, you know, not be an option for me.” 

2. Her part in Crazy Rich Asians busted the notion of exotic arm candy

In playing Astrid Leong-Teo, the ultimate it girl who is nicknamed “the goddess” for her beauty and fashion sense—but yet who is also down to earth and maintains a steely façade as her marriage crumbles around her—Chan brought new meaning to “brains and beauty”. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this film my whole life. I’ve certainly been waiting for it since I started acting,” Chan said, ecstatic to have been in a Hollywood movie where she wasn’t an “oversexualised or fetishised” Asian female character.

3. She is the first Asian woman to play a significant role in an MCU movie

Chan’s turn as the blue-skinned, super-powered Kree alien warrior Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel is miles apart from the character of Crazy Rich Asians’ Astrid, but equally noteworthy for Chan in that Captain Marvel is the first female-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be directed by a woman, and that she is the first Asian face to play a leading role in the franchise. This is a personal triumph for the actress who, like Captain Marvel co-star Brie Larson, has been vocal about the lack of diversity and inclusiveness, especially in Hollywood.