In an entertainment industry where lack of diversity remains a prominent issue, films such as “The Hate U Give” carry a lot of weight. Within the last month, actress and model Amandla Stenberg released the official trailer for the new movie on her Instagram and was immediately faced with criticism on many social media outlets.
The #1 New York Times best-seller, which follows the rise of protagonist Starr Carter to activism after she witnesses the police shooting of her friend, is a Black Lives Matter-inspired story that has won several awards. Fans of the book were quick to point out that Starr, who in the book is raised in the predominately black community of ‘Garden Heights’, should not have been depicted as a lighter-skinned woman in the screen adaptation.
Stenberg has received backlash before for her complicity to colorist ideals – in an interview, the actress admitted to stepping down from auditioning for the role of Shuri (Letitia Wright) in Black Panther because it wasn’t her place.
Audiences were quick to point out that Stenberg hadn’t even landed the role, therefore rendering her commentary on representation useless. It seems that this same attitude is being held towards the actress in ‘The Hate U Give.’
Although author Angie Thomas defended Stenberg, the fan backlash stems from a very valid issue – colorism, which is the discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone, typically among individuals within the same ethnic/racial group. Colorism affects the black community deeply, with influential artists and philanthropists either admitting to or actively making colorist statements/business decisions. We see it in the “light-skin versus dark-skin” arguments, under-representation of darker-skinned individuals (especially women) in the beauty and entertainment industries, and even in the overwhelmingly positive portrayal of lighter-skinned black people as more likely to be “successful” in society. With the origins of colorism buried deep in traumatic history, including the creation of preferential treatment during enslavement to segregation, individuals have every right to critique it in the industry today.
It’s also 2018 – shows such as ‘Dear White People’, ‘Grownish’, ‘On My Block’, ‘The Get Down’, and others are seen as breakthrough and progressive shows featuring mostly (if not all) POC casts. However, most of the protagonists followed are indeed lighter-skinned, which stems from imbedded racism in both the beauty and entertainment industry. It’s dangerous to introduce black narratives with only one type of face – this allows for censorship of many underrepresented narratives and a critical misunderstanding of the ones that reach the big screen. Characters who struggle through very real issues – police brutality, gentrification, gangs, affirmative action, etc – and grow to create beautiful things because of it – hip-hop, podcasts, rallies/protests, scholarships, relationships, etc – deserve to be represented by real faces.
There are many, many facets of the black community that need to be properly represented. It’s dangerous to do it with only a few.