Inclusion is Key

7 months ago Wynter Bond Comments Off on Inclusion is Key

So, we have to talk about Black Panther (sorry, not sorry).

I have seen just about every superhero movie, seeing as how my mother is low-key obsessed with Marvel. We always stay after the credits to see the bonus scenes, even if that means staying around sticky floors and popcorn riddled air for far too long. But the fact that this movie brought forth so many old and new faces when it came to diversity was so refreshing. We don’t usually see as many darker skinned African Americans in the media, but lately, it appears as though the flood gates have been opened. This movie has so many talented actors, from Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and the breakout star Letitia Wright (T’Challa’s younger sister and princess of Wakanda). This movie is saturated with such ethnic diversity compared to previous movies.

So imagine my surprise when Amandla Stenberg (Rue from The Hunger Games, Everything, Everything) came out with the statement that they were offered a role in the hit movie and turned it down. I had so many emotions and questions when I heard that. The biggest of them all was WHY WOULD YOU TURN IT DOWN? This movie has just crossed making over a billion dollars, the first superhero origin movie to do so. It has already confirmed to have a sequel. And it doesn’t look like its momentum will be stopping anytime soon. So for someone to turn down the chance to be a part of such groundbreaking media was baffling to me. Until I heard their reasoning for why.

Stenberg told Huffington Post, “These are all dark-skin actors playing Africans and I feel like it would have just been off to see me as a bi-racial American with a Nigerian accent just pretending that I’m the same color as everyone else in the movie,” Stenberg said. “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.”

That made me really sit back and think. Every time that a movie is cast, especially if it is an adaptation from a book, the first thing that seems to be argued about is if who the cast is appropriate for the role. There is always controversy if people disagree with casting choices.

But lately, Hollywood has been making great strides in attempting to diversify their population in television and movies. It used to be that people would get upset that certain roles were “whitewashed” by the media. A certain character would have been meant to be Asian or Hawaiian or another ethnicity, and casting directors would choose someone entirely off of what it would supposed to be. Even when it came to media nominated for awards, Hollywood would be accused of whitewashing them as well. This would lead to boycotts of these ceremonies by participants and viewers alike.

But it seems like they’ve heard all our complaints. In the past three years or so, I have seen more ethnic inclusion and diversity on a large multitude of platforms, such as movies, television, music, even video games. We made our voice heard and it became too loud to ignore. Now Hollywood is quick to come to the front and make sure the public knows its intentions. The studio producing the upcoming live-action Mulan movie faced backlash early in the screening process when rumors circulated of them casting a non-Asian actress to play the title role. They quickly refuted the rumors and later announced their casting decision.

I’m glad that Hollywood is moving in a better direction than in years past when it comes to wise and pre-emptive casting decisions. Black Panther just shows how far we’ve come and how far that we can still go. People like Stenberg show that the generation coming up is conscious of what’s going on in the world around them. We need to be involved in these important discussions and make sure we steer them in the right direction in order to see change.

Wynter Bond
wcbond@vwu.edu