While the world might be in a bit of a tailspin currently over whether or not society is taking steps backwards as far as tolerance and awareness goes, one actress is definitely helping media make broad leaps toward the future. As Dr. Malaya Pineda on CBS' must-see Wednesday night hit, Code Black, Melanie Chandra helps to give a voice and a face to many underrepresented communities on television, becoming a true beacon of light for so many fans that have grown thrilled to see someone like them on one of their favorite shows.
One of the most important things to remember here is that while Chandra does shine a spotlight on certain groups that don't often get illuminated, she does so without ever showcasing any stereotypes, and in fact she is even more of a change-agent as she constantly breaks the mold for what society expects these characters to look and sound like. Her character on Code Black is not only of Indian descent- which is probably the most underrepresented group of people on television- but she also plays someone from the LGBTQ community. And not only do both communities still struggle to be seen in media, but it's even rarer when they are merged- and yet, Chandra's character is still very much her own person and never defined by any label.
Riveting and adding much of the punch that this thrilling drama is known for, Chandra's character has also brought awareness to a very pertinent cause that is just starting to get the attention it deserves- sexual assault. An enormous part of her character's trajectory has followed her through the struggle of surviving an attack and trying to overcome PTSD while helping other patients in similar positions. The work is downright harrowing, and the gifted actress more than delivers.
Which brings up another important point; while the Code Black star is definitely a courageous frontier of many movements that are currently happening on-screen and is helping to continue to get the world to see society through the prism of a lens that isn't distorted by archaic constructs, it must be noted that she is not just being utilized by Hollywood as a political statement. Ultimately, Chandra is a very talented actress- and that is why she must be celebrated more than any other reason. While her character is certainly a way to help viewers embrace change, and her gorgeous appearance is so stunning that it also lends a hand to letting young Indian girls everywhere know that they are beautiful and worthy of being adored by millions- and all of that is amazing- but, what truly stands out is how good she is at her craft, and that is what will cement her as a long-lasting actress in the industry long after the change she helps make happen takes place.
And on top of that, the rising star also has a new Netflix original series called Brown Nation on the horizon! Taking some time to talk about that project and it’s all about, as well as Code Black and all the scoop on Malaya, Chandra sat down and filled fans in on what they can expect going forward in the season and more! Read below to see what she had to say!
So, let's talk a little bit about "Code Black." Things are getting pretty intense! Talk about the trajectory of Malaya, and what's coming up for her!
So, at the end of last season Malaya was terribly assaulted and we watched her face the finale as this quiet survivor and try and overcome her PTSD. In the beginning of this season we see a little more of that, but I think things turned up a notch in this past episode- which was a really meaningful episode for her. Malaya faces the challenge of being a doctor for a beautiful young college student that was raped, and as that doctor it was the hardest thing she ever had to do in her life. It's clearly a very pivotal moment for the character. From there, we have a really interesting storyline building up with Dr. Guthrie- who is Malaya's mentor on the show. Malaya is the one who discovers early signs of Parkinson's disease in him, so she is put in the position where she needs to tell her superiors, but doesn't want to because this person is so important to her.
Sexual Assault is definitely a hot-button topic on the lips of everyone these days, and an issue that needs awareness brought to it. Talk about being involved in a storyline that showcases such an important issue, and how important that it is to raise awareness for it.
It's a privilege and honor to help bring that story to light. There definitely needs to be so much more awareness, but more than that, there really has to be so much more change. There are so many girls every year that don't have a voice to tell all these horrible things that happen to them, so being able to tell this story allows us to take at least a small step forward. We've actually had instances where people involved with the show who have had cases like this in their lives thanked us for bringing these issues to light. We need these stories told. So, I truly am honored, and I do hope we can help make that change.
One of the most underrepresented communities in media is the Indian community. Not only are you helping to bring more faces from that community to television, but you also play someone from the LGBTQ community- and those two groups rarely cross in media. Can you touch on this and talk about being such a pioneer, and maybe talk about some of the fan mail you might receive?
When I discussed this role with the showrunner Michael Seitzman, he actually asked my opinion if we could explore Malaya as a lesbian- and without hesitation I said; "Of course! I would love to represent this community on screen!" And I love the opportunity I'm given to represent Indian-Americans on screen as well, and the fact that I'm given the opportunity to combine those two communities which are so severely underrepresented is an even bigger gift. It's a win-win. As an actor, there's so much rich material I can dive into, but also this character is a change-agent. There are so many little girls that have reached out to me through social media, and it's such a beautiful thing when they tell me that Malaya's story has helped them come out and makes them take pride in who they are, or girls who are out but didn't know if they could ever be doctors or be comfortable in who they are. So, it's absolutely phenomenal. I'm just so lucky to be able to play her.
Speaking of diversity and beauty, not Only were you miss India America in 2007, you also are one of the 5 faces of the bare essentials international campaign "Be A Force Of Beauty"- talk about making sure that Indian youths know they are beautiful also.
This was a campaign we did a few years ago and they did a blind casting- they didn't look at our faces until the day we were cast. The casting process was essentially an interview where we told them our stories, and our dreams and what we stood for and they picked women based on our inner-beauty, and when we all came together it was just such a wonderful and diverse group of women, and I was really honored to be one of the Indian faces. When I was a young girl I never saw another Indian face on TV and I think that's slowly starting to change, so to be one of those faces, again, really makes me feel very fortunate.
Of course, you also have an incredible cast surrounding you here- Marcia Gay Harden, Rob Lowe, Jillian Murray, Benjamin Hollingsworth, and you've had amazing guest stars like Eric Roberts, and the phenomenal Shiri Appleby. Can you talk a bit about the amazing company you're in?
All of them are my favorite people in very different ways, and everyone brings something unique and wonderful to the table. I absolutely adore Marcia Gay Harden. We all know she's an Oscar winner and a fantastic talent, but as a human she is just such a beautiful, kind, giving soul, and it's been a privilege to know her not only as a colleague, but as a mentor and friend as well. She brings out the best in me as an actress, but also from everyone she works with. I've learned so much- not just from Marcia, but everyone. Luis Guzmán is an amazing veteran, and he has this fantastic wisdom that he brings and I'm this newbie that is soaking it all in. I couldn't have asked for a better job. This is my first role as a series regular, and I couldn't have asked for anything more rewarding.
You also hold a second degree black belt in Shokotan karate! Would a martial arts film be something you'd be interested in? What other roles would you be interested in, and who else would you love to work with?
I would love to do an action film! I've been dying to do one, actually- just waiting for the right one to come along. Honestly, my ideal role would be an action-adventure film and my ideal role would be Indiana Jones. That's the kind of role I want to play- someone who is clever, mysterious, smart and resourceful, and ultimately action-oriented. And there are so many talented people who I would love to work with! But, I would love to work on shows like Jessica Jones, Stranger Things, Master Of None, Game Of Thrones, Westworld- they are all great and have really talented casts. There are two actresses in particular that I would love to work with though- one would be Emma Stone. I absolutely adore her. I've never met her, but I love her quirkiness and I just think she would be really fun to work with, and Emma Watson- who I think is just brilliant.
And you also have "Brown Nation" premiering on Netflix! What can you tell fans about that?
Brown Nation is this slice of life comedy about a group of Indians and Americans working at a failing IT company in Queens, New York. It's an underdog show. We shot it a while back with no distribution attached- it was just this labor of love amongst a group of filmmakers and young talent, and then recently we found out it got picked up by Netflix! So, it was an amazingly fun project to work on and we were very proud that it found a home. My character couldn't be more different than Malaya. She's this carefree millennial who works at a boring office job and she just wants to make everything around her "fun!"
And while making things "fun" might not necessarily be Malaya's mission on Code Black, she certainly does make them great and compelling to watch- or at least Chandra does as she breathes life into the riveting character each week on the CBS hit! And having seen what the gifted actress can already do on the medical drama, it's no doubt that fans will follow her next to Brown Nation!
Code Black airs Wednesday nights at 10PM on CBS.