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Amandla Stenberg Addressed Light-Skin Privilege She, Zendaya, And Yara Shahidi Have Compared To Dark-Skinned Actresses

Actress Amandla Stenberg recently spoke with Variety Magazine about her light-skin privilege, misogyny in Hollywood, being labeled a "young woke activist", and more.

This is Amandla Stenberg. You definitely know her because this 19-year-old actress stays hella booked and busy. Most people know her as Rue from The Hunger Games franchise, but she's also starring in THREE major films this year: The Darkest Minds, The Hate U Give, and Where Hands Touch.

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Amandla was tapped to cover Variety's annual Power of Young Hollywood issue and in the feature she reflects on her career in a very real way, addressing everything from having light-skin privilege to being labeled a "young woke activist" by white media.

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“Something interesting has happened with me and Yara 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,” she told Variety. “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.”

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Amandla also claimed that Marvel approached her about auditioning for the role of Shuri in the box office smash Black Panther, but she allegedly decided against it because she believed a dark-skinned actress should be cast instead (British actress Letitia Wright ultimately received the role). “That was not a space that I should have taken up,” the actress told Variety's Elizabeth Wagmeister. “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.”

Some people have questioned the truthfulness of Amandla's claim—which she first made last March—arguing that Black Panther filmmaker Ryan Coogler initially considered and offered the role to Letitia right off the bat (Coogler has neither confirmed nor denied Amandla's claim.) More controversy arose when Amandla was cast as Starr in the highly-anticipated adaptation of the award-winning YA novel The Hate U Give, despite the character being portrayed as a dark-skinned girl on the book cover.

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Earlier this summer at ESSENCE Festival, THUG author Angie Thomas addressed the casting controversy, saying, "Amandla was cast as Starr before there was a cover." Angie also revealed that while she was writing the book, she had watched and been heavily inspired by the teen's viral 2015 YouTube video "Don't Cash Crop My Cornrows." "I was like that's who I want Starr to grow up to be," the author continued. "From the beginning I was like 'that's it.' And so that's who I had in mind...For me, Amandla is Starr." Angie also disclosed that she had "no control" over the book's cover and knew "these conversations were gonna happen."

Additionally, illustrator Debra Cartwright has spoken at length with Vulture about her book cover illustration versus the casting. “I wasn’t exactly thrilled, because of the colorism in Hollywood and everything,” Cartwright said. Amandla also addressed this in a lengthy Instagram post: “I hope Angie’s perspective can alleviate those concerns, though I don’t expect it to address the age old conundrum of colorism and I’m glad this conversation is being opened up.”

The in-demand actress also shed light on being cast as Ruby Daly in the now-playing sci-fi thriller Darkest Minds, telling Variety that she jumped at the opportunity in part because "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."

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“As a kid, it was nearly impossible for me to find roles that felt empowered, that were not victim roles, that were fully dimensional, that didn’t serve any white male plotline,” Amandla continued. “So I worked less because I had no interest in doing something that would force me to compromise my own power or just make myself subservient to something I didn’t necessarily mesh with.”

In addition to dominating the silver screen, the teen powerhouse has made headlines from a young age by publicly addressing taboo topics, including calling out a famous reality TV socialite for appropriating black culture, and coming out as bi-sexual and, more recently, gay. And while her continued outspoken advocacy has earned her titles of "woke" and "activist," she told Variety those labels weren't self-titled, but instead resulted from "white media" outlets and their "tendency to oversimplify."

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“I think the media placed a certain label on me,” Amandla explained. “It was around the time the word ‘woke’ started being used a lot, and I think the media jumped to placing this label or image on me of being this young woke activist. Sometimes people act like it’s a self-titled label that I gave to myself, but it’s not. I’m only one person and don’t want to claim to be any sort of savior or representation of all of black womanhood, which I think the white media has a tendency to oversimplify, when it’s really a complicated experience.”

Overall, Amandla appears to be hopeful for the future of Hollywood, but still believes there's much more work to be done: “I’ve been acting since I was a very little kid, so I have been aware of how the industry works. We’re at a turning point, but we have by no means fixed the misogyny of Hollywood or white patriarchy. But in terms of how we diversify our sets and diversify our on-screen narratives, I definitely think it’s a great time of change.”

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Read the full feature on Variety.com.

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