It's difficult to envision anyone saying "no" to Black Panther, 2018's biggest film, but Amandla Stenberg did it. Stenberg told interviewer Amanda Parris at the TIFF Next Wave Festival that they walked away from the Ryan Coogler film because of the colour of their skin. (On Tumblr in 2016, Stenberg, 19, said they were "more comfortable" with they/them/theirs pronouns. Stenberg later asked fans not to change their pronouns on their Wikipedia page, explaining that this could cost them future jobs.)
"One of the most challenging things for me to do was to walk away from Black Panther," they explained. "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."
The characters in Black Panther mostly hail from Wakanda, an isolated African nation that subsists on a miracle mineral called Vibranium. Stenberg, who is biracial, didn't feel comfortable playing a character who was supposed to be native to Africa.
"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 colour as everyone else in the movie," they said, adding, "There are spaces that I should not take up."
Stenberg was likely auditioning for the role of Shuri, the tech-savvy Wakandan princess who serves barbs like, "Great! Another white boy for us to fix." Letitia Wright, an up-and-coming actress who grew up in Georgetown, Guyana, took on the role. Wright is one of the movie's breakout stars, and it's possible Stenberg's decision to walk away contributed to Wright's burgeoning stardom. By walking away, Stenberg indirectly uplifted another woman of colour, contributing to an even more diverse Hollywood. Sometimes, taking the L means gifting a W to everyone else.
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