Amandla Stenberg, 19, best known for her role in “The Hunger Games,” explained in a recent conversation at the TIFF Next Wave Festival in Toronto why she walked away from the audition process for Ryan Coogler’s box office smash, “Black Panther.”
“One of the most challenging things for me to do was to walk away from ‘Black Panther,'” she told CBC Arts. “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.”
There are Africans of all complexions, but Stenberg’s reasoning for walking away has to do with colorism in Hollywood. In roles available for Black women, it’s typically women with lighter skin tones that are cast.
“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,” she said.
“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 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.”
As a teenager, Stenberg became vocal about issues pertaining to race and society. In 2015, as an assignment for history class Stenberg created the video “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows,” which went viral. In the video that currently has 2 million views on YouTube she discusses Black natural hair in mainstream culture and explains her thoughts on cultural appropriation.
Similar to Stenberg’s sentiment that her lighter skin provides her privilege in the industry, Tamika Katon-Donegal, an actress based in Los Angeles, told DiversityInc that both complexion and hair texture matter.
“In terms of the business, there’s still a lot of privilege, I think, that I’m afforded as a Black woman who has hair that’s curlier than a Black woman that has coarser hair,” she said.
Mathew Knowles also admitted he dated his former wife, Tina, because he thought she was white.
Stenberg’s talk of colorism in the entertainment industry is a conversation that has been going on for years. Last month, while promoting his new book, Mathew Knowles, father of superstar Beyonc Knowles Carter, said his daughter’s career received a boost because of colorism.
“When it comes to Black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio” he said to Ebony. “Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids [Beyonc and Solange], and what do they all have in common”
The chart-topping artists he mentioned are lighter-skinned Black women.