New ABC drama continues to defy media stereotypes

October 17, 2015 — by Fiona Sequeira

“Quantico,” is currently ABC’s top-rated show due to its diverse cast and empowered, independent women leads.

After several major box office hits in India, Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Priyanka Chopra has brought her talents to the U.S. with new TV drama series “Quantico,” which premiered on Sept. 27 on ABC.

The show, co-created by Joshua Safran (producer of “Gossip Girl”), centers around a terrorist attack that decimates New York City’s Grand Central Station. FBI agent Alex Parrish, played by Chopra, is framed for the attack, and in order to clear her name, she must investigate her former classmates from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. The story unfolds in two concurrent timelines: the present-day where Alex must prove her innocence and the past in Quantico, where she and her colleagues compete for coveted spots as full-fledged FBI agents.

“Quantico,” which is currently ABC’s top-rated show, threatens to fall into banality with its overdone “terrorist thriller” bent. Like many drama shows, “Quantico” ignores the realities of life as an FBI agent to further plot lines and create suspense.

While this tactic could quickly bore viewers, the show is refreshing in the sense that it is breaking serious ground in Hollywood with its diverse cast that features several smart, independent and empowered female characters.

As the first South Asian woman to headline an American network drama series, Chopra is legitimizing the identities of South Asians in mainstream American media. Her image on major billboards across the U.S. serves an an inspiring source of pride for women of color everywhere as well as an encouraging reminder of changing times.

Chopra is keen on defying Indian stereotypes in American popular culture. As she says, Indians do not have to be limited to playing stereotypical characters like Apu from “The Simpsons” or the sweater-donning geeky scientist Raj Koothrappali (played by Kunal Nayyar) on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” Even Mindy Kaling, who plays doctor Mindy Lahiri on her show “The Mindy Project,” often elicits laughs through harshly self-deprecating humor.

In contrast, Chopra breaks free of the South Asian typecasting that so often has brown actors playing doctors or cab drivers by playing the role of a savvy, sassy modern woman who knows how to pack a punch and defend our country. In short, Chopra is proving that South Asians can fulfill lead roles rather than playing second fiddle to white actors.

While the show admittedly has its flaws, such as an unrealistic plot that moves at breakneck speed, it’s a major step in the right direction in terms of representing real Americans of every heritage in pop culture in a positive light — especially in roles where they are protecting our country’s very ideals of democracy and freedom.

One of the FBI recruits on “Quantico” is the hijab wearing Nimah Anwar (Yasmine Al Massri) which is highly unusual for a prime-time show. Placing Indians and Muslims in these roles is a definitive step closer to a colorblind media.

And although “Quantico” deals with some heavy content — the pilot episode alone features suicide, domestic violence and a terrorist attack — at its core, it’s fun. The show delivers twist after twist in a frivolous, satisfactory way that keeps the viewer wanting more.

Now more than ever, with our rapidly changing world demographic, viewers will demand to see people who look like them starring in coveted roles on the big screen. “Quantico,” with its addictive premise, sly mystery and well-balanced cast, is shaping up to be a breakout show in this fall’s TV season.

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