Amandla Stenberg recently discussed dropping out of the auditions for Black Panther so that the opportunity could be afforded to a darker-skinned candidate more befitting to the role.
Her admission makes a powerful statement about representation in the film industry.
It's no secret that Hollywood has a habit of white-washing characters and casting lighter-skinned actors for roles over their darker-skinned counterparts. The actress' bold move is particularly significant because Black Panther introduces a fictional African kingdom called Wakanda that represents "black excellence that was never interrupted by colonialism." Stenberg's decision not to take the role was based on her biracial identity and the inaccuracy she felt it would represent in the film's overall theme.
In an interview at the TIFF Next Wave Festival in Toronto, Stenberg said:
"One of the most challenging things for me to do was to walk away from 'Black Panther.' I got really, really close and they were like, 'do you want to continue fighting for this?' And I was like, 'This isn't right.'"
"These are all dark skin actors playing Africans and I feel like it would have just been off to see me as a biracial American with a Nigerian accent just pretending that I'm the same color as everyone else in the movie."
The 19-year-old actress won her way into our hearts in the Hunger Games trilogy and Everything, Everything, and continues to stay relevant in social activism by bringing national attention to issues like colorism and cultural appropriation. She added:
"That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets. I recognize 100 percent that there are spaces that I should not take up and when I do take up space it's because I've thought really, really critically about it and I've consulted people I trust and it feels right."
Americans love black culture, but do we really love black people?
When I was in elementary school, my sister got cancer and my parents and I moved from Texas back to Baton Rouge to help her through chemotherapy; culture shock is an understatement. I went from a school where I was the only black kid in my class to one that was predominantly black.
I remember I came home from school my first day, upset because my classmates told me that I was mixed, light-skinned, and talked like a white girl. Today, it sounds silly I know, but then I was completely devastated; honestly, because I didn't know what being "mixed" meant and I couldn't understand why being "light-skinned" or talking like a white person were bad things. My family has every shade of brown that there is, so I wasn't familiar with the terms "light skinned" or "dark skinned," we were all just black.
It wasn't until I got older that I began to recognize my privilege as a light-skinned African-American woman. I noticed that my friends and classmates who were more brown-skinned were treated differently by boys and even our teachers. Though the plight of any woman is worth reverence, I began to realize that I was afforded more opportunities than my friends with brown skin.
The recent height of racial tension in our society should also urge us to confront the transgressions that we commit against one another in the black community.
Stenberg reminds us that empowerment means seeking equal opportunity for all women. Not just ourselves.
She declined the opportunity to be a part of one of this year's top-grossing and culturally impactful films to make a bigger statement about the way colorism is perpetuated in film.
"I'm just someone who cannot fake it. I can only do something with my full heart invested or just not do it at all. I still am really young and it's not a race. I didn't feel like I had to be working all the time just to prove that I could work. I still have a lot of time. You don't have to force your career to happen all at once."
Amandla Stenberg makes us all question what we can do as individuals to create a better life for society as a whole. She reminds us to check our privilege and pay it forward because personal advancement cannot be truly valuable until there is a level playing field.
Featured image via Giphy