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Zoe Kravitz
@zoeisabellakravitz via Instagram

‘Why do stories happen to white people?’

Calling out the lack of leading characters in Hollywood for black people, Zoe Kravitz doesn’t want to play sidekick anymore

Hollywood narratives focus on the white (mostly male) story – you know this by now. If you want stories of diversity you're better off heading to indie films by POC or seeking out underground cinema. The role of a black character in Hollywood has long been defined as the trope sidekick in a comedy, the ghetto beauty or non-speaking character who might show up in the credits as BLACK GIRL 2.

Zoe Kravitz has almost been subject to this limited role assignment – she played the ally Christina in the Divergent series and winged mutant Angel who moonlights as a stripper in X-Men: First Class. But no more. Kravitz has a role with real character in new film Dope, and she's not going back to the ally position.

In an interview with the Guardian, she says “best friend of the white girl” is the standard way for the film industry to portray a black girl. "I ask writers and producers: ‘Why don’t you have any black people in your film?, ‘Why do stories happen to white people and everyone else is a punchline?’”.

Recently, it was revealed she was blocked from auditioning from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises because filmmakers said they “weren’t going urban”. 

“There are certain roles where I know what they are asking for,” she says in the interview. “They want me to talk like I’m not an educated person. But if my character’s not educated, you have to tell me why. It can’t just be because I’m black.”

One of the reasons this has not changed sooner may be because there are few people standing up and making a point of it. But now Kravitz used her platform to voice these concerns and Dazed cover star Amandla Stenberg has passionately called out the industry’s lack of roles for women of colour calling them “often one dimensional” and that they “lack substance”. 

A recent study has proven that if a film even has just one female writer, the percentage of female characters on-screen goes from 26 per cent to 35 per cent. And when a black director is present, 40.2 per cent of on-screen characters are black rather than a pathetic 10.6 per cent when the director is not.

Kravitz is fully aware that the lack of narrative concerned with the experience of people of colour is down to who is in charge. “What I’m finding is that a lot of people don’t see it’s an issue because it’s not their story, unless they’re black or a minority,” she said.

It’ll be interesting to see Kravitz lead in a more meaty role in this new film. While we still have white male voices dominating behind the camera, the quality and breadth of our cinema is going to be stunted. But with women like Zoe and Amandla taking the helm, it's becoming increasingly evident that Hollywood bigwigs need to up their game.