Alexandra Shipp On Colorism Criticism: “As A Woman Of Color, You Can’t Tell Me That I Can’t Play A Woman Of Color”
It was just a month ago that actress Amandla Stenberg revealed that she had the chance to be in Black Panther, but chose not to fight for a particular role in the film because she understood the importance of not taking up certain spaces as a light-skinned actress.
“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,” she said at the TIFF Next Wave Festival. “These are all dark skin actors playing Africans and I feel like it would have just been off to see m [sic] as a bi-racial American with a Nigerian accent just pretending that I’m the same color as everyone else in the movie.”
“That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets,” she added. “I recognize 100 per cent that there are spaces that I should not take up and when I do take up a space it’s because I’ve thought really, really critically about it and I’ve consulted people I really trust and it feels right.”
Such decisions received a lot of praise from the Internet. But for actress Alexandra Shipp, who has faced a lot criticism for her role choices, most recently, for playing Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse because the character in the original comic was much darker, looks at things differently.
In an interview with Heroine Magazine, Shipp talked about the backlash she’s faced as a biracial actress for taking roles like that of Storm.
If you’ll recall, she said this when someone said they were looking forward to a “dark skinned non-racially Ambiguous Storm”:
She looks at it as being told that she’s not Black enough for certain portrayals, and Shipp made it clear that she doesn’t have time for those type of conversations.
“What I experienced on Twitter which I personally, had no idea the grandiose of speaking on it, I was speaking on a personal experience and I feel like I was this metaphorical straw that broke this interracial camel’s back,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to offend anyone, but at the same time if my work offends you, let’s take a step back and ask why my personal experience is offensive to you? When we’re talking about the reality of the situation, I’m not wearing black face, I’m not putting on a prosthetic nose or lips, I’m not trying to kink my hair up so that I can have a fro, I have a fro. I wake up with it every morning and I go to bed with it every night. But if someone said, ‘Alex, we want you to play this historical figure but we’re going to have to darken you up’, I would respectfully decline. I would be like there are so many incredible actresses that don’t have to alter their appearances that would do this job justice, but as a woman of color, you can’t tell me that I can’t play a woman of color because I don’t match the Crayola marker from 1975 when they drew the comic, that makes no sense.”
When told that she might obtain certain opportunities that actresses of a darker complexion may not be afforded, and then was asked how she is working to empower those women, Shipp said by taking on certain roles she can help people see past color and look at Black actresses differently.
“You look at people like Lena Dunham and Issa Rae, they have been given a platform to uplift people of every race, sexuality and denomination and that’s what I strive for, that’s the only route towards real inclusion that I’ve seen,” she said. “The way I see that I can affect social change within my industry is by working really hard and taking on roles that make people uncomfortable, that’s the whole point of theatre. It’s getting those roles and saying, I’m not playing a black woman, I’m playing a woman, that’s how you move the conversation and change the way people look at women of color in film. The way to true understanding is to start a conversation, that’s why I love film is because within that hour to four hours you can start a real conversation that changes the narrative and doing so means I’ve done my job as a performer.”
When asked about conversations about colorism and the idea of making a move like Stenberg and stepping aside to let certain Black women shine in certain roles, Shipp didn’t see that as realistic.
“If this keeps becoming a conversation about my skin tone rather than my artistry, then I’m willing to have that conversation respectfully, but majority of the time it’s like, oh you should give up the role in order to allow other actresses and I’m like, you guys know that if I don’t take it, there’s a girl below me and if she doesn’t take it, there’s a girl below her. If all of us banned together in a perfect world and say no, this is meant for a dark-skinned actress, the studio would say you’ve lost your damn mind and hire a younger, light skinned actress. The only way we can create social change is not by denying ourselves roles but taking the roles, changing the way that people see those roles and making them our own; saying not only am I a black woman, I’m my own black woman, I’m my own person in these socially constructed confines and I’m not going to let anyone define that for me but myself.”
Interesting, indeed. Check out the interview in it’s entirety over at Heroine Magazine.