Well, this is depressing — though if we’re being honest probably not that surprising…
Katie Leung, who played Cho Chang in the Harry Potter films, is 33 years old now and finally speaking out about the racism she faced as a teen thanks to her role in the biggest YA franchise of all time.
Speaking on this week’s episode of the podcast Chinese Chippy Girl, the Scottish actress — whose parents immigrated from Hong Kong — explained the pressure that was put on her stepping into the role of a crucial if not central character in the Potterverse.
Cho Chang, who dates Cedric Diggory and then briefly Harry himself, is described by author J.K. Rowling as “pretty and popular” and comes into the story only in the fourth film — meaning there was already an established fanbase for not just the books but the movies. As Leung explains:
“During that time, it was the kind of rise of the internet and fandoms and all that sort of stuff. Because I’m 16 and a teenager, I care what people think as it is, in school, never mind what the whole world thinks. There was a lot of pressure there. I was so caught up in caring about what people thought of me.”
Which led to, as you may have guessed, what’s now known as an internet no-no: reading the comments! She recalls:
“I was Googling myself at one point, I remember reading all the comments, and there was a lot of racist s**t.”
And not just a random comment here and there on the big fansites and chat rooms either.
People put time into their attacks on the 16-year-old:
“Somebody had actually created a website, a hate site. It was like, if you disagree with this casting, click on this button, and it was like a count of who disagreed with the casting. It’s so awful.”
Like we said, not too surprising. In years since, we’ve seen racist fans lose their s**t when they realized characters from the Hunger Games books were Black, when minorities finally got central roles in the Star Wars universe — and currently there’s controversy brewing over the idea of Michael B. Jordan playing Superman.
A post shared by Katie Leung (@_katieleung_)
But at that time Katie was not even allowed to acknowledge the existence of racist bullying; she explains:
“I didn’t get any interview or media training before these interviews, and I remember saying, ‘Katie, we haven’t seen these websites that people are talking about so if you get asked just say it’s not true, say it’s not happening.’ I just nodded my head, even though I’d seen it with my own eyes.”
Ugh! She agreed to just say “everything’s great,” which can’t have made dealing with the bullying any easier. She says of the experience:
“I was very f***ing grateful that I was in the position I was in, but it wasn’t great.”
This is why we can’t have nice things, y’all. Racist jerks. And producers wanting their money! Ick.
Speaking of racism, just last year — right around the time the Potter films started temporarily streaming on HBO Max — there was a discussion of whether the name “Cho Chang” itself was racist, in that it was something of a caricature of a Chinese name for the only Chinese character in the series. Her response?
That thread is not a rant about her character but a list of links to organizations that protect Black trans people. Pretty awesome move.
But we’re glad she feels comfortable talking about her experience now. You can listen to the full episode HERE.
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