Knowing Your Place: Why Amandla Stenberg Bowed Out of Auditioning for Black Panther

Amandla Stenberg attends the 2018 Essence Black Women In Hollywood Oscars Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 1, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Amandla Stenberg attends the 2018 Essence Black Women In Hollywood Oscars Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 1, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Photo: Leon Bennett (Getty Images for Essence)

In the weeks since Black Panther premiered, much has been made of the revelatory experience of seeing such a melanin-rich cast on-screen. Specifically, while the fictional world of Wakanda gave us a glimpse at what black civilization might have been like without European colonization, it also represented a world in which the systemic rape that accompanied slavery and colonization—let alone voluntary miscegenation—simply wasn’t a consideration.


So it’s a little surprising to learn that at one point, 19-year-old biracial actress Amandla Stenberg was seriously considered for one of the coveted leading roles in the film. While an undeniably talented actress who is no stranger to the genre (Hunger Games, anyone?), Stenberg would never be mistaken for a purely African woman.

But what’s less surprising is that Stenberg—also a staunch and outspoken young activist who faced racist accusations of miscasting after portraying what many mistakenly presumed to be the blond and blue-eyed character Rue in the first film adaptation of the Hunger Games trilogy—was aware of this as well. At the recent TIFF Next Wave Festival, she recounted the experience in an interview with the Canadian Broadcast Co.:

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.”

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.

While her admission challenges some of our previous assumptions about how the movie was cast, it’s a moment of self-awareness we rarely see in Hollywood, particularly in the narrow realm of quality roles for black actresses. And while it was no doubt devastating not to participate in one of the most powerful and anticipated black films in history, Stenberg stands by her choice:

That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets. I recognize 100 percent 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.

From her mouth to Zoe Saldana’s ears. It is so refreshing to see an actress less concerned with advancing her own career than with making sure that representation is on point, and we (and, we suspect, Letitia Wright, who brilliantly played Shuri) thank her for her humility and integrity. Colorism is enough of a plague in Hollywood without lighter-skinned actresses co-opting roles that don’t resemble them in the least.

But we deeply appreciate Stenberg’s stance, especially when she is also fully aware of the lack of solid roles available to her. In the interview, she speaks about being forced to take time to choose wisely after her breakthrough role at age 12. But she trusted then—as she clearly does now—that her discernment and patience would lead her exactly where she needs to be:

I still am really young and it’s not a race. I didn’t feel like I had to be working all the time just to prove that I could work. I still have a lot of time. You don’t have to force your career to happen all at once.


You can read the entire article here, but we’re just going to stand and give a Wakandan salute to Amandla Stenberg for doing the work of self-awareness and true sisterhood. This is how you walk the talk.

(Editor’s note: Since publication of this article, we’ve received further clarification from one one of our intrepid sci-fi loving readers that kind of like Jesus, the character of Rue was described as having “dark brown skin and eyes” and “hair like moss” in The Hunger Games novel. So, those in opposition to Stenberg playing the role weren’t even protesting color-blind casting. They were just plain racist. The article has been edited to reflect this.)

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?


Good for her from the perspective of fighting colorism, especially given that Wakanda is meant to be an untouched, thoroughly sub-Saharan country. She would have been visibly out of place.

However, I am going to take issue with the idea that she’d never be mistaken for a “pure African woman.” Africa is full of people who look very much like her and not just because of the Arab slave trade or colonialism. Lots of Berbers (indigenous peoples of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria) look no different from other Mediterranean peoples (which is to say, many have olive skin and features that wouldn’t be surprising in Southern Europe) and they’ve been intermixing with sub-Saharan Blacks for thousands of years, owing to trade, migration, and the interaction of various empires; similarly, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the Horn of Africa are full of people who are the product of thousands of years of racial mixing with people both lighter and darker than they, and much of this was before the Arabs came as slavers. Not all “pure” Africans are Black, and not all Black Africans are “purely” Black. I know that’s not what you’re saying, but it’s important to point it out given how commonly Africa is seen as a monolith.