By Chelsea Lenora White
Amandla Stenberg is having a big year.
The 19-year-old actor is gearing up for the release of her highly-anticipated film, The Hate U Give, later this year, and her current effort, The Darkest Minds, is in theaters. While her career is red hot, Stenberg is also not afraid to speak her mind about a host of issues from politics and sexuality (she came out as gay earlier this year), to colorism in Hollywood.
In a recent interview with Variety, Stenberg kept it all the way real about how she’s benefited from being a lighter skin Black woman in the entertainment biz.
“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,” the teen explained.
“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.”
This isn’t the first time Stenberg has addressed the issue. After Black Panther was released, Stenberg, like millions of moviegoers, celebrated the film’s success. She also confessed she passed on a role in the film because she felt like she–a light skin young Black woman–shouldn’t have taken the role in the film that celebrated brown-skinned Black folks.
“I was in the audition process for it, then I decided to not continue with the process because I thought that it wouldn’t be right for me as a biracial, light-skinned American to be playing [the role of Shuri],” she told ESSENCE earlier this year.
In her interview with Variety, Stenberg confessed she just didn’t think it was right to take up space.
“That was not a space that I should have taken up,” she explained. “And it was so exhilarating to see it fulfilled by people who should have been a part of it and who deserved it and who were right for it. I just wasn’t.”
In spite of her self-awareness about her access as a lighter-skinned Black woman, Stenberg has also been accused of taking a role that could have gone to a darker-skinned actor. After she was cast in The Hate U Give, many questioned why she was picked for the part when the cover of the book the film is based on featured a darker skinned teen.
At this year’s ESSENCE festival, The Hate U Give author, Angie Thomas, explained that she always had Stenberg in mind when she was writing the book.
“Amandla was cast as Starr before there was a cover,” Thomas said. “And when I was writing the book, I imagined Amandla.”
Thomas also addressed the discrepancy between the cover of the novel and Stenberg’s casting.
“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,’” Thomas said.
Stenberg also commented on the growing controversy about her casting on Instagram.
“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,” she said, addressing the situation head on.
“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.”
Stenberg continued, “Do I aim to represent all Black girls? Hell nah! Do I expect all Black girls to feel represented by me? Absolutely not.
“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,” she said. “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.”
This article originally appeared in the Houston Forward Times.