Katie Chang isn't taking her last year of college easy.
The 21-year-old actress is spending her last semester at Northwestern University taking classes on making her own web series and curating film festivals. She's also writing and producing a number of plays on campus. During her breaks, she auditions and films.
Her most recent movie, “The Outcasts,” came out April 14. Also starring Victoria Justice, the film is about a group of high school nerds who team up against the popular kids. Chang plays one of the nerds, Claire, an arts and crafts-loving Girl Scout with a dark secret.
But while she plays one of the eponymous “outcasts,” Chang is quick to say her character isn’t a stereotype.
“I was up for a different role originally,” she told NBC News. “The girl they had playing the role that I ended up playing was white, tall, and blonde — so it was more of which actor fit best with which role.”
“There is something to be said about the trope of the Asian nerd, someone who is really, really smart and good at math, and that’s definitely not Claire,” she added. “She’s a weird, loosey-goosey 2-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body.”
But Chang’s acting career hasn't always been about what actress is best fit to play what role. Like many other Asian-American actors, Chang has dealt with racial discrimination in Hollywood. She said her manager told her she was passed over in a recent TV audition because she was not white.
“I auditioned a couple of times, and when I talked to my manager, she said ‘Look, they really liked you, but they’re going to go white with the character,’” Chang said. “I had a real ‘wow’ moment when I realized that this is what people deal with all the time. And it really sucks, especially when you believe that you’re right for the role, to be told that you inherently can’t be right for the role because of the way you look.”
A multiracial actress, Chang has considered changing her last name in an attempt to land more roles. But when her first film, “The Bling Ring” directed by Sofia Coppola, came out in 2013, she decided against it. While she noted that some casting directors aren't looking to cast "Katie Chang as a lead actress" in teen-focused romantic comedies, she said her decision not to use a stage name has pushed her to work harder.
“Since I came out of the womb, I’ve wanted to be an actor,” Chang said. ”I wanted to be recognized for my talent — my perceived talent — and the idea of getting well-known and well-respected as an actor under a name other than my own felt so wrong."
Chang names Constance Wu as an inspiration for “being a champion for Asian-American women’s rights.”
She said she also hopes to be outspoken about those issues like Wu is. Noting recent sexual assault allegations at Northwestern, Chang said that the school administration’s decision to close the case and failure to take further action against the accused fraternity members was “so irresponsible and awful.”
She will get an opportunity to touch upon social issues more in her next film. Chang has been cast in “Canal Street,” which is scheduled to release next year. The film focuses on race relations in the North and South Sides of Chicago. She will be playing actor Will Yun Lee’s daughter.
“It’s about about police brutality and law and order,” Chang said. “I play a girl who goes to high school with the main character, and she ends up having a very important role in how the story progresses. It’s really exciting when someone wants you to come on board and tell an important story, and I feel honored to be a part of it.”