Anders Overgaard/Condé Nast Traveller
Priyanka Chopra has apologized for wearing a shirt that some people on Twitter perceived as being insensitive towards refugees. The Quantico actress is featured on the October/November cover of Condé Nast Traveller magazine; the Indian publication's sixth annual Indian edition was released Oct. 7. The cover shows the TV star modeling a white tank top, which has the words "refugee," "immigrant" and "outsider" crossed out, and the only remaining word is "traveller."
When the cover was published online Oct. 10, its editors explained the meaning behind Chopra's top. "At Condé Nast Traveller, we believe that the opening up of borders and the breaking down of walls can help us discover the world, and open up our minds and hearts," the magazine said. "So, when we had actor Priyanka Chopra wear a T-shirt we created on the cover of the sixth anniversary issue, we had a point to make. It's about how our labeling of people as immigrants, refugees and outsiders is creating a culture of xenophobia."
"We are allowing thousands of innocent people who are forced to cross borders due to unimaginable terror and atrocities to be treated without humanity and empathy," the magazine added. "It's about how we are allowing some powerful leaders to build barriers that make it more difficult for bright, motivated and hardworking people to see more of the world, learn from it and make it better for us all."
Asking readers to "celebrate our commonalities," the magazine added Chopra "is the perfect ambassador. It's not about her being a refugee or immigrant or outsider; it's about her, like us, recognizing the power of travel, and joining us in asking everyone to do better for each other."
But, over the next few days, the backlash only grew louder on social media.
In an interview that aired Monday on Indian news network NDTV, Chopra apologized. "The magazine had a point of view," she said. "They were very clear what they were addressing, and they specifically got this made and implored me to wear it. They're addressing xenophobia, which is a big issue that is happening with labels." The actress added that the magazine wanted to "be ambiguous about people moving in and out, whether it's by choice or not by choice—so, traveling. Their idea was that, and I bought into it, I guess. I'm really, really apologetic about the fact that so many sentiments were hurt. I mean, that was definitely not the reason. And me, of all people! I'm someone who always stands for no labels. I'm someone who always stands for people being able to do what they have to do when they have to do it without being put in a box. So, I was very affected. I felt really, really horrible. I think...that was never the intention."
Pressed about the fashion statement, she said, "It was misconstrued. The point that the magazine wanted to make was actually something good, saying that people are moved out of their countries because they're thrown out of their homes, literally, and they're looked at—whether it's Europe, whether it is America, anywhere in the world—they're looked at very differently. It was not their choice to have moved out. Whether I come from another country and I'm in America, I'm an outsider, or an immigrant. But the boxes—politically, these words have been used so much to berate people, to put them in a box, to profile them. And the magazine's idea was to break that, basically. That's what I went with. This was the magazine's idea."
The interviewer said she couldn't help but think of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, whom she called "that little baby who was washed ashore" in Turkey. Chopra knew what the journalist was getting at. "Of course! You're saying all of that, but that was never the intention. You think I'm not aware…?" the Bollywood actress asked. "The idea was that those kids should have the ability to live their lives without a tag on them, without a label on them, because it does create xenophobia. That same child that you were talking about—the child that was rescued and was alive—they should be able to live a life without having that label. That's what the magazine wanted to do. But it got misconstrued, and I mean, I'm really sorry for it. I'm sorry it was on me, and people saw it like that. But I don't think it was their intention, and definitely not mine."
(Kurdi, his brother and his mother died during a journey across the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.)
Later on, in an official statement, Condé Nast Traveller said, "We believe that the opening up of borders and the breaking down of walls can help us discover the world, and open up our minds and hearts. So, when we had actress Priyanka Chopra wear a T-shirt we created on the cover of our sixth anniversary issue, we had a point to make. And it's not about privilege or fashion."