Long before the film ever hit theaters, Black Panther was receiving praise for its stellar cast, which brought together a massive ensemble of black actors from all around the world, including the United States (Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and so on), Kenya (Lupita Nyong'o), and the United Kingdom (Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright). In a sense, the fictional African nation of Wakanda became its own kinda of cultural melting pot, where actors from different backgrounds could come together to create their own version of this almost mythical kingdom.
Of course, not every major black star could fit into the film, and at least one actress actively backed away from participating in it for a very socially conscious reason.
Genre fans might best know 19-year-old Amandla Stenberg for her breakout role as Rue in 2012's The Hunger Games, while others might recognize her from her appearance in Beyonce's visual album Lemonade or the 2017 romantic film Everything, Everything. Stenberg's star has been rising for a while now, and her career shows no signs of slowing down, but in a recent live interview at the TIFF Next Wave Festival in Toronto, she revealed that she turned away from an opportunity to be in one of the biggest films of 2018.
"One of the most challenging things for me to do was to walk away from Black Panther," Stenberg said. "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."
So, why walk away from such an opportunity? Stenberg is the daughter of an African-American mother and a Danish father, and as a biracial actress, she was concerned that she would be taking a role that another actor would be better suited to.
"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," she said.
Stenberg didn't elaborate on which role she might have gotten (Shuri seems like a safe bet), and it's quite possible that a large chunk of Black Panther's audience would never have even seen the same issue with her casting that she did had she landed the film. What she did make clear was that she definitely doesn't regret her decision.
"That was really challenging, to make that decision, but I have no regrets," Stenberg said. "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."
As issues of whitewashing and diverse casting become more and more visible in Hollywood, it's often tempting to only look at what directors and producers are doing to address such concerns. Sometimes, though, a young actress with a big career ahead of her does something as powerful as turning down a role in a guaranteed blockbuster to leave that space open for someone else, and that's to be commended.