By Prarthana Mitra
In a now deleted article penned by celebrity columnist Mariah Smith for The Cut, Bollywood-actress-turned-Hollywood-star Priyanka Chopra became the object of bizarre conspiracy theories reeking of racism, sexism, and ageism. Recently wedded to former boy band star Nick Jonas, she was accused of trapping the “younger rich white man” in a fraudulent relationship against his will, in a horribly offensive piece that likened her to a scam artist.
Not only does the 1,600-word article titled “Is Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’s Love for Real?” berate Chopra for aiming higher than the imagined station reserved for a brown woman in the West, but the fact that the writer herself is African American speaks volumes about the nature of patriarchy’s agents in society. Western privilege does not go away simply because you claim #BlackLivesMatter.
But the takedown piece soon backfired on Smith and the publication, whose motto reads, “Showing the world what women are made of”.
How social media responded
Social media erupted in protest and outrage aimed at New York magazine which owns The Cut, for running this piece in their otherwise feminist lifestyle offshoot in the first place. The article, first published at 5 pm on December 3, was later revised to omit the most offensive parts and later taken down altogether, after the publication received enormous backlash on social media.
No explanation was offered; the editor’s note, that replaced the original article, simply read: “Upon further editorial review, we found this story did not meet our standards. We’ve removed it and apologize. We’ve received dozens of messages from readers expressing their anger. We want you to know that we hear you and we’re sorry. The whole piece missed the mark. There is no good explanation for this other than human error and poor judgment. This was a mistake, and we apologise to our readers and to Priyanka and Nick.”
Several critics, including Indian actors and journalists, bet Smith ought to have been drunk to write some of the things she did, further blaming the editors’ oversight for allowing her to pull a self-made celebrity and a woman of colour down.
Your tagline reads “Showing the world what women are made of” — can you explain how this article does this or…is this just lazy editing and journalism mixed with racism, sexism, and xenophobia? Failed satire at best? pic.twitter.com/k7l1KOCQee
— kyra (@mulderareusayin) December 5, 2018
In the controversial piece, Smith spends a lot of energy and purported research in charting the evolution of Chopra and Jonas’s relationship, drawing prejudiced conclusions that have no grounding in logic or evidence. Despite her claims, she managed to get some facts wrong, such as writing that Chopra won the Miss Universe pageant when, in fact, she became Miss World.
Having established the fact that the couple opened up about their relationship in September 2016, Smith elaborated upon her ageist assumptions such as “Nick was 24 — not exactly the time you’d imagine a bachelor like Nick Jonas to think about settling down. But it was around the time you’d think someone like Priyanka, then 34, would.”
An elaborate and outlandish theory soon followed about how Chopra’s “team” played a role in pulling the strings and making the scam successful, simply because she had asked him to text her on a private line which wasn’t monitored by her social media team.
The piece ended with an obvious diss aimed at the North Indian practice of the groom arriving at his wedding on a horse: “Nick, if you’re reading this, find that horse and gallop away as fast as you can!”
Here’s why this matters
Chopra’s successful crossover and meteoric rise haven’t sat well with many like Smith, but others have hidden their inane contempt better. In her article, Smith links back to Chopra’s video tour of her home, her admission of shopping preferences, a home theatre system she barely used, and to what Smith perceives as flirting with successful men including Tom Hiddleston caught on camera.
Smith’s fixation on Chopra’s Indian identity seems to highlight her own failure at reconciling Chopra’s wealth and social status with her roots. Celebrity journalism often devotes its glossy pages to cover the excesses of the rich and famous, but the double standards in Chopra’s case clearly reek of internalised misogyny, postcolonial racism, and western elitism, suggesting it is only acceptable when rich white men (or women) flaunt their wealth.
The article did not have very nice things to say about Jonas either. Describing his going down on a knee act at a Vanity Fair Party in 2017 as a public proclamation of lust, Smith reserves the worst for the subtitle: “All Nick wanted was a possible fling with Hollywood’s latest It Woman, but instead he wound up staring at a life sentence with a global scam artist.”
CityLab writer Tanvi Misra tweeted that she loved “the fawning for nick jonas in this through and through bad piece given that billions of Indians collectively gasped, ‘this . . . guy?!’” when Chopra announced her engagement. The Washington Post columnist Sonia Rao concurred writing that there were many people out there, including her own mother, who had no idea who Nick Jonas was before he became the soon-to-be Mr. Priyanka Chopra.
ah yes, Priyanka Chopra, former Miss World, beloved by a billion, only brown actor to win mainstream recognition and roles in the US is definitely the one running a scam and taking advantage of-
-that guy from Camp Rock
— Neha Yadav (@nay_yeah) December 5, 2018
Smith seems to have a problem with Chopra having it all, and grinds her for working hard to be able to have and enjoy the high life she now leads. Her racism outshines her sexism at times when she notes disapprovingly of Jonas’s participation in the elaborate marriage rituals of Indian culture.
The two got married amidst family and friends in an elaborate wedding in Jodhpur last week, followed by a Christian ceremony.
Chopra was asked to comment on this vicious and uncalled-for attack at the launch party of Bumble, a US-based dating app that is making its Asian debut with India, and in which Chopra is an investor, in Delhi. She replied, “I don’t even want to react or comment. It’s not even in my stratosphere. I’m in a happy place at this moment. These kinds of random things can’t disturb it.”
Nick’s brother Joe Jonas and his fiance Sophie Turner, were less clement and called the publication out on Twitter.
Joe wrote, “This is disgusting. @TheCut should be ashamed to have someone write such evil words. What Nick & Pri have is Beautiful Love. Thank u, Next.”
Sophie tweeted, “This is wildly inappropriate and totally disgusting. Very disappointed that The Cut would give anyone a platform to spew such bullshit.” It was only after the Game of Thrones star lashed out, that the NYMag issued the cursory apology.
For a publication that “shows women’s what they are made of” @TheCut has a lot to answer for . The article on @priyankachopra was sexist , racist and disgusting. Also it’s written by a woman which is so sad. It reeks of envy and bitterness. @mRiah shame on you! https://t.co/bmbbX7LrAT
— Sonam K Ahuja (@sonamakapoor) December 5, 2018
The Cut has always published provocative pieces on women and lifestyle, including one that recently went viral on new parents gripped with homicidal tendencies towards their infants. But this one definitely crossed the thin line between being provocative and being defamatory. The continuing backlash underscores how lifestyle and celebrity journalism today needs to shed its medieval standards of judging people’s lives and choices.
With the criticism of another takedown piece by Into magazine that attempted to peg Ariana Grande’s new music video as anti-queer, this week serves as a cautionary tale for editors to responsibly push back against bad ideas and not let writers hang themselves for the sake of hot-take rage clicks.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.