Chloe Bennet as Daisy "Skye" Johnson on ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
A few years ago, Chloe Wang was just another young actor in Los Angeles struggling to land substantial roles.
"The casting directors would tell me, 'Look, you're not white enough to be a lead character, but you're not Asian enough to have a best-friend role," says the 23-year old Chicago native, whose father is Chinese and mother is Caucasian. "At that time I was thinking, 'You're right.' But in hindsight, it's crazy to see how racist that was."
Wang's Hollywood fortunes didn't reverse until she changed her name—adopting her father's first name as a last name. With the Caucasian-sounding surname "Bennet" on her resumé, she suddenly scored a recurring spot on the TV series Nashville
in 2012-'13 as record-recording assistant Hailey. Then, in December 2013, Bennet's career hit a new peak after she beat out more than 400 other hopefuls to win the role of Skye in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
, the Joss Whedon-created Marvel Comics TV series on ABC, now midway through its third season.
The kicker: Bennet never expected to play a hero on the show. Her character has evolved from a wisecracking computer hacker living out of a van to Daisy Johnson—a full-fledged superhero with earth-shattering quake powers.
"It wasn't what I signed up for, but I'm so stoked it's happening," Bennet says. "I'm half Chinese, and we've got an ethnically diverse cast. To act alongside a melting pot of actors with a showrunner [Maurissa Tancharoen] who is Thai—it's really cool to be on right side of history when it comes to diversity. I'm really glad to be a part of it."
But even with her own star on the rise, Bennet is far from satisfied with the racial and gender diversity in Hollywood and comic book movies and television. She says she's surprised that more isn't made out of the fact that she's the only modern female Asian-American superhero in TV or movies.
"There's also basically only one black female superhero out there—Storm—and there are zero ethnic Avengers," she says. "TV tends to be a bit more progressive with more people of color and women, but movies . . . wow. We just had this movie Gods of Egypt
where all the Egyptians are played by white people. I think we can do way better."
Growing up in Chicago's near west side near the United Center with her six brothers, Bennet recalls always surrounded by the specter of testosterone-fueled professional sports and male superheroes. "I never dreamt of being a princess, I wanted to be a superhero," she says. "It's the truth, I loved X-Men
as a kid. But I didn't think it was possible. Especially with me Chinese, I remember turning on the TV and thinking, I won't be pretty unless I'm blond."
At this weekend's C2E2 convention, Bennet—who is one of the annual comic convention's featured celebrity guests—hopes to meet and inspire a young girl who could be next female superhero.
"I've done these conventions in the past, and these fans and young girls tell me I'm an inspiration and role model," she says. "It's something I fell into, but it's important to do whatever I can for them."
Likewise, C2E2 officials say it's important to have Bennet in a marquee slot at this year's three-day Chicago Comic Con.
"We've got Chloe, we've got [Melissa Benoist who plays TV's] Supergirl this year. It's fantastic that we have these strong female leads to be here for the girls," says M.K. Goodwin, content manager for ReedPop, C2E2's producer.
Goodwin says she's tried to make diversity-related programming and events a cornerstone of the show in recent years. Twelve different events are on the schedule in 2016—including such panels as an LGBTQA Roundtable, Latinos in Comics!, and Diversity in Geek Media.
"There's more of them than ever because it's become so incredibly important to fans." Goodwin says. "We've heard a lot about diversity—it's important to them and important to us."
Chloe Bennet Spotlight, Sun 3/20, 3:15-4:15 PM, McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore, c2e2.com, $35, $65 for three-day pass.