It’s been weeks now since Black Panther made it’s highly-anticipated appearance — and the hype is just as legit as it was when the casting was confirmed — and Ava DuVernay respectfully handed over the reigns to Ryan Coogler — who has proven beyond a doubt that he was the right soldier for the job.
I finally had the pleasure of submitting myself to what has rapidly become a cultural phenomenon and the results didn’t disappoint. I certainly enjoyed myself and absolutely appreciated the big screen being dominated by regal warriors with gorgeous dark-skin — that highlighted the overall aesthetic that unfortunately rarely gets the cinematic treatment.
The intense passion and heightened excitement around the movie of the year is completely understandable when you consider that it’s the very first of its kind. It’s a noteworthy cause to be able to witness the historic success of a superhero flick that is set in a fictional African country — that is not only primal in its pursuits of remaining out-of-reach from unwanted advances from other superpowers — but also basking in the dignity and security of being self-sufficient.
Truth be told — when I left the theater — there was a feeling that I was somewhat of a traitor — since I wasn’t able to match the flurry of accolades that have been clogging my timeline for weeks. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted, but once it was over — I felt mostly relief that I had finally released myself from the stress of dodging never-ending spoilers — that had already spoiled some of the fun before I had the chance to indulge.
For me — Black Panther was an ambitious action flick that presented all the elements that are characteristically associated with that genre. The exception of course is the fantastical version of an African nation that has avoided outside interference — and continues to thrive under the kickass regime of those who have been blessed with the noble assignment.
The avalanche of think pieces haven’t stopped and we can’t expect that to change anytime soon. I’ve also contributed to the still growing narratives that are as vibrant as they are genuine. The only takeaway for me is the irony that the proud people of Wakanda are managing their affairs using the language of colonizers as the preferred means of communication.
Don’t get me wrong — it would have been virtually impossible for Marvel and Disney to envision producing a movie like Black Panther with all the hopes and dreams attached to it — with the utter buzzkill of subtitles. Still — you can’t ignore the fact that in order for us to buy the splendor of an untainted country that has kept its ancestral fountain pure and intact — we can’t have the inhabitants speaking English with accents that aren’t cohesive.
Then comes the latest revelation from actress Amandla Stenberg — who divulged that she was up for a leading role in Black Panther — but decided to bravely bow out at the last minute because she wanted to reserve her efforts for characters that accurately match her ethnicity.
“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.”
Sounds like Stenberg might be hinting that despite her best intentions — she wasn’t treated fairly when it came to operating under conditions that should’ve allowed her to compete for a role that she demonstratively wanted.
She went further:
“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.” “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.”
Once Stenberg’s testimony was made public — social media spaces lit up with praise for The Hunger Games actress — as users expressed their support and admiration for a young actress who unlike her biracial or multi-ethnic counterparts who are much older — showed enough courage and grace to step aside and make way for less-fortunate darker-skinned talents — who obviously needed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shine — more than she did.
Of course media outlets joined the chorus of endorsements by propping up their articles to propel Stenberg even further into the sphere of adulation.
Stenberg’s decision to turn down the undisclosed role in “Black Panther” also stands in stark contrast to other actors who have accepted roles for characters that they do not physically resemble in terms of ethnicity, identity and physical ability.
While it is accurate that Hollywood has the detrimental tendency of casting Caucasian actors as Egyptian gods — while Caucasian actresses get to play Asian heroines — and even Zoe Saldana thought she could make a convincing Nina Simone — there is something particularly strange and grossly misleading about Stenberg’s valiant declaration.
First off — Is Wakanda comprised of only dark-skinned citizens? Because that would be bad news — if that’s the case.
The continent of Africa is still a place of mystery for most — which is proven by the assumptions that most make when tackling their version of what it would be like to visit or even live there.
When I left Nigeria — and came to the States for college back in the nineties — I was asked the kind of questions that gave me chills at the level of ignorance on display — from those who didn’t suffer any shame uttering those words.
Things have changed a ton since then — but this latest reception for a biracial actress over her willingness to give dark skin actors their due — is a strong indication that there is still a stereotypical application on what Africans really look like.
I am not one of the fans who thinks Stenberg’s action were heroic — mainly because her well-intentioned philosophy is woefully misguided.
The biracial actress — like most who share her reasoning — is under the impression that Africans are typically dark-skinned — due to the fact that people from the Diaspora are thought of as just “plain black” without the “mixing” that most Black Americans claim.
That isn’t far from the truth — but if she had the opportunity to scan my extended family photo — she would find that my relatives boast skin hues that run the gamut. My maternal grandfather was very fair-skinned and most of the girl cousins on my mother’s side — actually resemble Stenberg’s template.
Their bright hues have nothing to do with White men fucking around and diluting the Igbo tribe — although there was some of that too. It’s really the natural order of things that produces varying degrees of pigmentation because — quite frankly — it would be weird as fuck if every single one of us had dark skin.
Stenberg’s explanation seems to be rooted in the fact that only “dark-skin actors were playing Africans” and as a biracial — it wouldn’t be proper to ruin that look — because an actress that looks like her can’t convincingly portray an “African with a Nigerian accent.”
I am sorry that Stenberg was encouraged to sacrifice the opportunity to be a part of a dope ass movie for reasons that don’t exist. If Angela Basset was able to play the mother of T’Challa — I have to believe that Stenberg could’ve easily played her daughter and the younger sister of the newly minted superhero. Also — none of the cast members utilized a Nigerian accent — so she would’ve been all set with that too.
There are countless young women of Nigerian descent who don’t have to be biracial or bleach their skin — to sport lighter complexions — and when they speak — they don’t sound American.
So — if Stenberg dropped out of Black Panther it was either due to pressure from producers who felt the need to deliver a product that would satisfy the ongoing demand for diversity in all its misleading glory — or perhaps the actress truly wanted to perform an honorable act.
Either way — for those who hold Stenberg as the leading example of how to vanquish the issue of colorism in Hollywood — the bitter truth is that she suffered for nothing. She could easily be cast in a Nollywood blockbuster and her addition wouldn’t elicit an outcry or warrant any explanation because she straight up looks like an Igbo girl.
Actually that’s not a bad idea! The Nollywood thing — I mean.