Black Panther has roared into a pop culture zeitgeist due to its responsible representation of Black people and challenging the long-enforced ideologies of what a superhero looks like. The movie is filled with fierce, strong and inspirational Black men and women of power—and almost all of them of are a darker complexion.
Amandla Stenberg, who was going to audition for the role of T'Challa's younger sister Shuri, realized the importance of the film's skin tone and decided to back out. In an interview with CBC Arts, the 19-year-old actress revealed she turned down the opportunity because it didn't feel right. "One of the most challenging things for me to do was to walk away from Black Panther. 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,'" she explained. "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."
Stenberg continued, "That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets. I recognize 100 per cent 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." Stenberg's mother is Black and her father is Danish, so her biracial background and lighter complexion would not feel appropriate in Black Panther. Rather, it would've been an inauthentic casting decision.
The film takes place in Wakanda, a nation in East Africa that has not been overthrown by white colonizers. Since they never infiltrated the country to have the chance to breed Wakanda's women, the citizens' bloodline is pure African. Hence, their dark skin tone. If Stenberg were to play the role instead of Letitia Wright (who is the perfect Shuri), Marvel would have immediately been called out for not fully catering to the film's essence. Colorism is already a prominent issue in Hollywood, where light-skinned Black actors usually get more favorable roles than their dark-skinned colleagues.
But this doesn't mean that our biracial brothers and sisters are exempt from the struggle too.
Often, they find themselves in a race-fueled tug o' war where Black people don't want them to speak up about solely Black issues. On the other hand, biracial people can be shunned from being accepted from their white side. Stenberg faced this herself, when she was battered with racism-fueled disapproval after portraying Rue in The Hunger Games, despite the character being described as having “dark brown skin and eyes” and “hair like moss” in the novel. The actress commenting on this issue opens up a critical conversation. And while there were mixed reactions to her "backhanded compliments" (with many pointing out Wright already secured the role), at least it got people talking.
Black Panther continues to dominate the box office, earning $6.6 million on its 14th-day of domestic release. It has now grossed a little under $435.4 million at the North American box office. Below, watch Young M.A, MILCK and everyday women speak out about solidarity, empowerment and being fearless: