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Amandla Stenberg
Photography Ben Toms, styling Robbie Spencer

Amandla Stenberg turned down a Black Panther role due to her light skin

‘I feel like it would have just been off’

Amid the chorus of joy for Black Panther, one of the many things that the film has been praised for is its inclusion of natural hair, bald women and darker skin tones. Activist and actress Amandla Sandberg, who is light-skinned, had foreseen the cultural impact this would have. In a new interview, she details how she actually turned down the chance to be in 2018’s biggest movie moment.

“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,” she revealed in a CBC Arts interview.

The 19-year-old has been vocal on social media about racial matters – her “Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows” video went viral for its excellently articulated analysis of cultural appropriation. Among this she has also discussed light skin privilege, so naturally the biracial teen had her reservations. “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.”

It’s not clear what role Stenberg was offered, even though online speculation has led fans to conclude she would have made a great Shuri (who was portrayed by British actress Letitia Wright). However, even despite the movies huge success she stands by her refusal.

“That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets. I recognise 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.”

Given that the film has amassed over $720m worldwide this is a prime example of putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to social advocacy.