"This is a new day," boasts Netflix’s Great Day in Harlem remix on the classic photo by Art Kane, featuring black directors, actors and actresses from their shows and recognizing the movement taking place in Hollywood. Nonetheless, will the influx of new projects from black creators and artists be tainted by the ‘light-washing’ of characters from their original identities? Many believe so and are expressing their frustrations throughout the web, on Black Twitter and beyond.
The projects at the forefront of these conversations are The Hate U Give, a film adaptation of The New York Times best-seller by first-time author Angie Thomas, and Raising Dion, a Netflix television series adaptation of the original comic book and its trailer by Dennis Liu, spearheaded by Michael B. Jordan’s production company, Outlier Society Productions. The controversy around The Hate U Give arose last year when it was announced that Amandla Stenberg, a well-known, fair-skinned actress of mixed race, was cast as ‘Starr,’ the book’s main character. The uproar was reignited when the first trailer was released. https://youtu.be/3MM8OkVT0hw Fans are upset that the image on the front of The Hate U Give is of a dark-skinned girl. However, the author confirmed Stenberg was cast before the book had a cover. Even still, according to the book, Starr is described as having a caramel, "medium-brown complexion."
I'm excited for this movie, and I personally love Amandla, but I think this was a HUGE missed oppurtiunity to cast a dark-skinned girl to play Starr. We deserve to see ourselves on screen too and i'm tired of only seeing light-skinned black girls in movies. https://t.co/xJws7QcexW— That Angry Black Chick ???????????????????? (@naimamuhammad53) June 26, 2018
Fantasy Black women in illustration can be dark skinned, but no one wants to cast deep, dark, chocolated goddesses as the dream women. Viola Davis, Aja Naomi King, Teyonah Parris, and Antoinette Robertson have perfect 10 faces and bodies; they should be centered constantly.— The Afro Iowan (@RedDirtRooted) June 28, 2018
People have many reasons to be upset. A lot of these issues go back to the times of slavery when lighter-skinned enslaved individuals were seen as more ‘delicate’ and were assigned to household duties, while those of darker complexions were forced to work in the fields. These divisive ‘brown paper bag’ ideologies have had an adverse impact on the black community and society as a whole for generations in the United States and cultures around the world. The recasting of lighter characters furthers the racist notion that ‘white is right’ and lighter is inherently better.
Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, who is believed to have first coined colorism, defined it as the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” Colorism does need to be stopped in Hollywood and beyond, but should we not support black creators' work altogether? While I do agree that people should be vocal about the lack of opportunities given to those of darker hues, I do not believe that taking support away from these projects will assist in the overall effort to have these colorism issues resolved in the future.
As she said in her Twitter bio, Angie Thomas is not the casting director for the film adaptation of her book, nor was Michael B. Jordan directly in charge of casting for his new project and should not get the brunt of the criticism.Further, we cannot forget that Michael B. Jordan is one of the first people to have an ‘inclusion rider,’ a clause in a contract to make sure that 50 percent of the cast and crew in a project are diverse. In his most recent cover story with Essence Magazine, Jordan stated, “I want to lead by example. I know I had an opportunity with the shows and projects I had coming up, to put it to work. It’s important to have diversity both in front of and behind the camera, and inclusion riders make sure that anyone who does business with my company knows that we expect there to be people of color, women, LGBT folks and people with disabilities in key positions on our crews and productions staffs.” Understandably, the process of diversifying the industry will not be without its challenges; nonetheless, the effort Jordan is implementing demonstrates his commitment to amplifying the voice of the disenfranchised in the entertainment industry. Additionally, supporters believe Stenberg's casting in The Hate U Give was a perfect choice because of the similarities she shares with the split and complicated main character. Starr faced prejudice from people in her school and the community, and Amandla has also faced prejudice in real life, being called the N-word and "black b***h" when she was cast in the mainly white Hunger Games film. The A-list actress also spoke out unapologetically about cultural appropriation and gender bias.
Actors and actresses have been vocal about the lack of roles available for people of color as a whole and specifically dark-skinned talent. This issue needs addressing, and the doors of opportunity must open wide enough for more shades of brown to enter. Still, we should celebrate the wins of black filmmakers. Yes, it is necessary to continue to speak out regarding the problems and issues with recasting characters in lighter tones. It’s also essential to know that we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go in Hollywood and society.
Black people have been ‘free’ for less time in America than enslaved. For Hollywood to realize this will take time, but as actress Dewanda Wise said in an InstaStory (since deleted) about colorism, none of them are ‘waiting by the phones’ looking for people to give them opportunities, but they are creating roles themselves.
Mia Hall is a digital content producer and the founder of Brown Girls GLOW, an organization dedicated to empowering teen girls go from 'the hood' to the Harvard of their dreams. She primarily writes and creates content surrounding topics in entertainment, social justice and sports. You can follow all of her musings at miahall19.com.