The Hate ‘We’ Give: Society's Criticism of Amandla Stenberg's Controversial Identity

Image via Getty Images

Image via Getty Images

Amandla Stenberg—activist, model, actress, influencer…the list could go on. But many of us knew her first as, Rue, the little black girl from District 11 in The Hunger Games. Or perhaps you knew her from “Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows,” the viral video uploaded to YouTube in 2015 highlighting the rampant cultural appropriation that exists in pop culture. Or maybe you first learned of her from her recent coming out as gay in an interview with Wonderland. No matter how you were first introduced to Amandla, she has shown herself to be a relevant and impactful figure in the industry. 

However, like many other figures in the industry, she finds herself the target of constant criticism for the roles she takes on. It goes as far back as when most of us first saw her on the silver screen—in the aforementioned The Hunger Games, 2012. Many fans of the series had an issue with a black girl portraying the role of Rue. In fact, the criticism extended far beyond Amandla. Racist fans were even angry about the casting for Thresh (another District 11 inhabitant) and Cinna (Katniss’s stylist). The fact that all these roles were portrayed by African American actors enraged fans, despite Suzanne Collins’s (author) explicit description of them as such in the original novels.

Sadly, Amandla faces eerily similar criticism again for her recent role as the lead of The Darkest Minds, set to hit theaters this Friday, August 3. Fans of the sci-fi novel are angry because Ruby—the main character—is described as white in the books, yet is being portrayed by a black woman in the film. Alexandra Bracken, the author of the novel, explained on Tumblr that while Ruby may have been white in the story her “race and appearance play no role in how she navigates her world, so there’s literally no reason why she couldn’t be played by a black, Latino, or Asian actress. The fact that they broke the white actress mold for a major studio film is a god damn miracle.”

While disheartening, this controversy only empowers Amandla in my opinion. She faced this negativity in 2012 with the minor and short-lived role of Rue.  But today, while she does face the same noise, she now stands in a role that carries the entire film—the lead. She has come full circle. 

All that being said, this is not the end of Amandla's endless criticism. As an up and coming, and undoubtedly talented actress she also snagged the lead role for a film named The Hate U Give, set to release October of this year. The film mirrors the current strained and violent relationship between the police and black communities. Amandla plays the protagonist, Starr, who witnesses her friend killed as a result of police brutality. While it is a beautiful and compelling story, some people can’t seem to accept that Starr’s role was given to a bi-racial woman. 

Amandla is now faced with a double edged sword, and the irony is astounding. As a bi-racial woman, both black and white, what roles should she take on? 

This concern is valid and very real. For years, we’ve seen Hollywood whitewash ethnic roles. Casting racially ambiguous, light-skinned, and bi-racial actors instead of their darker-skinned, less Eurocentric-looking counterparts. So it begs the question, should the role have been given to Amandla?

Whitewashing and lack of representation is a major issue, but personally I answer yes to this question and am in support of Amandla's casting. In fact, Angie Thomas, the author of the film-adapted novel, has even expressed her approval of Amandla as the lead in a recent interview with ESSENCE Festival. More importantly, this controversy brings to the surface longstanding and deep rooted issues within the black community. Issues of colorism, dual identity, and self-loathing.  Many bi-racial individuals, Amandla included, grow up straddling their two races not sure which community they belong to. Through the lens of the “one drop rule” institutionally racist, non-black society sees them as “too black, and not white enough.” Conversely, the hierarchy of colorism evident in their black communities paints them as “black, but not black enough.” So where do these individuals stand? Where are they allowed to? You see, we—as a community— should not create yet another space where these individuals feel they only have one foot in the door. We have to remember that achieving better representation does not also mean pushing aside our lighter-skinned brothers and sisters. More than anything, it means all sides banding together and eradicating divisiveness so that we can all help each other. 

Where do you stand on the issue? We want to know how you see it! Let us know in the comments.