“Do I Aim To Represent All Black Girls? Hell Nah!” Amandla Stenberg Addresses ‘The Hate U Give’ Controversy

September 1, 2018  |  

amandla stenberg addresses colorism in Hollywood

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When it comes to being woke in the entertainment industry, there are few actresses as caffeinated as Amandla Stenberg. The 19-year-old actress whom audiences became familiar with after she portrayed the character of “Rue” in The Hunger Games has always been outspoken about issues surrounding race and sexuality. She was a mere 14-years-old then and in a new interview with Variety she displays that with maturity comes wisdom she’s actually be honing for some time, even if she didn’t always look old enough to possess much of the knowledge she shares. She recalls how it felt to star in the movie based on the book she had read not long before being casted as one of its characters:

“It was all a dream come true.”

“As a kid, it was my favorite book.”

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She laughs about bumping into co-star Jennifer Lawrence recently who was taken aback by the change in her appearance:

“She said, ‘Oh, my God, you have boobs!’”

“And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve gone through puberty since I last saw you.’ We don’t stay in touch necessarily in the way we used to. But she will definitely always remain as a big-sister figure to me, just because she was so endlessly sweet to me when I was a kid and made me feel comfortable in a space that was intimidating.”

Stenberg is currently starring the teen thriller The Darkest Minds, a film based on a dystopian young adult novel about teens who become government targets after suddenly developing superpowers. Stenberg’s character “Ruby” was originally written as a white girl, but the actress shares the importance of representation for young women of color in sci-fi films that often star actresses audiences have come to associate with the genre like Shailene Woodley:

“The character was written white. It was exciting for me to have a black girl at the helm, because we’ve seen these with Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley, and they’ve done a fantastic job. But we’ve never gotten diverse representation.”

However, when it comes to representation, Stenberg is clear about avoiding the message that she represents all black women. Last year, she made headlines when she broke the news that she had an opportunity to be casted in the box office blockbuster Black Panther. She expressed that after being offered an audition for the role of “Shuri” (which actress Letitia Wright was eventually casted for) she ultimately decided that the part should be played by an actress with darker skin and removed herself from the process. Stenberg says she recognizes that although diversity is improving in Hollywood, we still have so much further to go:

“The lack of diversity within the Black girl representation we’re finally getting is apparent and it’s NOT ENOUGH, and I understand my role in the quest for onscreen diversity and the sensitivity I must have towards the colorism that I do not experience.”

“Do I aim to represent all Black girls? Hell nah! Do I expect all Black girls to feel represented by me? Absolutely not.”

Her words are in response to criticism that occurred on social media when some fans were unhappy with Stenberg playing the lead role in the upcoming The Hate U Give by author Angie Thomas. Fans were expecting the role to be given to an actress with darker skin, despite Thomas revealing herself that she had Stenberg in mind while writing the book. Thomas recently cleared up the confusion while providing some insight on the images accompanying the novel:

“Amandla was cast as Starr before there was a cover. And when I was writing the book, I imagined Amandla.”

“Now the thing people don’t understand is that the authors don’t have control of the covers. So when I was given the cover I was told, ‘That’s the cover. You don’t have any say’.”

Stenberg also took to social media to share the criticism is somewhat warranted:

“Over the past year I’ve heard concerns from my community around my casting as Starr in The Hate U Give and I want those who are worried to know they are seen and heard. Something that I love most about the Black community is the accountability and expectation for greatness and consciousness that we maintain.”

“We encompass a beautiful and expansive plethora of experiences, identities and shades and it would be ridiculous to assume that I should or could represent all of us.”

“I want my sisters to know I navigate my industry with an acute awareness of how my accessibility contributes to the representation I am granted.”

She also shared that while Hollywood is making steps to be more inclusive to women of color, admittedly in many ways they are still playing it safe:

“Something interesting has happened with me and Yara [Shahidi] and Zendaya — there is a level of accessibility of being biracial that has afforded us attention in a way that I don’t think would have been afforded to us otherwise.”

“Me and Yara and Zendaya are perceived in the same way, I guess, because we are lighter-skinned Black girls and we fill this interesting place of being accessible to Hollywood and accessible to white people in a way that darker-skinned girls are not afforded the same privilege.”

For now, despite who approves or doesn’t, Stenberg is finding comfort in living her truth coming out as bisexual a few years ago and recently identifying as gay while dating singer/songwriter King Princess:

“I wanted to be transparent about who I was and stand with pride and hopefully, through that, make other people feel proud of their identities.”

“There was definitely a little bit of nerves, but I’m lucky to grow up in an environment where I don’t have to feel repercussions for being myself and I can feel comfortable exploring and finding my truth. I wasn’t afraid because I had a lot of support around me.”

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