She Got Time Today: Angie Thomas Wants You All to Know That She Does Not Cast Movies

Thomas is caught in the crossfires of a viscous debate on colorism.

angie thomas responds to hate u give casting backlashYouTube

Y’all better leave Miss Angie Thomas alone.

This week, Thomas really was not here for the bullshit when she realized fans were raiding her Twitter feed with interrogative questions about the recent casting decisions for the upcoming film adaptation of her debut novel, The Hate U Give.

What started as an ostensibly innocuous conversation about the politics of casting Black actors quickly detoured into a serious debate, one that disinterred accusations of colorism that ignited the discussion.

On Thursday (August 3), Twitter was not too impressed to find out that Amandla Stenberg — who has featured in films like The Hunger Games and recently led the film rework of Nicola Yoon‘s Everything, Everything — a light-skinned biracial actress, would occupy the starring role as Starr Carter in the big screen project, The Hate U Give.

The news sparked a dialogue amongst Twitter users about whether there does, in fact, exist a preference of “lightness” as it relates to Hollywood’s propensity to cast fair-skinned or racially ambiguous performers to occupy roles with Black leads.

starr carter amandla stenberg hate u give cast film
Actress Amandla Stenberg will portray Starr Carter in the upcoming film The Hate U Give

Released in February this year, Thomas’ best-selling novel calls to task the long-standing issues of racism, police brutality, and injustice while signaling the atrocities committed against black bodies by police officials. The novel painted a clear-eyed portrait of what’s reflected in the media today, what with men of color being gunned down at the hands of what is more or less understood to be needless violence.

In the book, 16-year-old Starr Carter wrestles with the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who has just been gunned down while unarmed. The media’s instant misrepresentation of Khalil is vicious: some naming him a drug dealer, others a thug, but Starr knows her Khalil was neither. Caught in the crossfire of suburban and inner-city disagreements, she becomes unsteady in her response to the tragedy, but what Starr does or does not reveal about that fatal occurrence could invert life as she knows it.

As it relates to the issue at hand, though, many fans were divided on the movie’s decision to make Stenberg the lead in the film. Some followers rejoiced in Hollywood’s willingness to open its arms to stories of the Black experience—and in this case, one of the most important movements within the community—arguing complexion is neither at play nor an indefensible argument as Stenberg, herself, identifies as a Black woman, and her character is also described to have a “caramel” complexion.

Others, on the other hand, raised the point that Hollywood’s continued tradition of light-skinned performers inadvertently sidelining their dark-skinned brothers and sisters by accepting these roles, and at the expense of the industry’s monetary push, no less.

And thus, a fiery debate was born.

“I love Amandala [sic] but they couldn’t find a dark skin actress,” writes one user, who received nearly 1,000 likes for their stance the topic.

However, not everyone held the same sentiments: “1. Yes, colorism is real. But your issue should be with mainstream media, not Amandla or Angie. They are doing what they can” writes BookTuber India Hill in a stream of tweets defending Thomas and Stenberg. This also points to the fact that the actress was, in fact, selected for the role ahead of the film’s official announcement.

[Update: August 5, 2017 — the tweets mentioned below have since been deleted by its original author]

Still, more users raised points of their own, challenging the conception of what it means to be “Black enough,” and by whose standards. Chiming in on how Stenberg’s participation in the film has done little to make inroads for dark-skinned actresses was another user named Candice, who writes, “What doors has she opened for other actresses of color tho? Seems her activism only helps her. That’s my opinion of course,” says the fellow book blogger.

In her answer, Hill reflects that she understands the frustrations of Black consumers and readers alike considering the subject matter; and also how greatly affecting it can be to witness the absence of Black actresses of darker hues being portrayed in the media, big and small screens respectively. Nevertheless, she reserved her position that blame shouldn’t fall on the hands of the author or the actors who are simply doing their jobs but on Hollywood.

Similarly, I agree with both of these ladies, but there’s a catch.

On one hand, I don’t see the point in using Stenberg as a bullseye for criticism, but maybe that’s because I don’t see her as the actress setting trends for leading Black narratives in Hollywood. In fact, I dislike that argument a lot. Now, that isn’t to say her work and efforts have gone unnoticed, she’s been putting in work and I’m happy for her. But, if I can be politically incorrect, I don’t particularly think of Stenberg as more than a below-average actress.

Whether that speaks more to the (very real) lack of opportunities she’s been afforded or her skill as an actress is neither here nor there—she’s still accomplished and respected and I wouldn’t take anything from her. I would like to see her in something outside of YA, something more daring, but that’s another story for another day.

Speaking to the other side, though, I totally disagree with this sudden attack on Thomas over something she has no participation in. Unlike most, I am glad Thomas used her platform to speak her mind, and the unfiltered approach was priceless. It’s too often that we read pre-written statements drafted by publicists, so it’s refreshing to see someone like Thomas let it be known that she is not someone who will be cornered into a situation that she had no place in.

She made those statements loud and clear while ushering in new cast additions—including Regina Hall, George Tillman Jr., Russell Hornsby, and Lamar Johnson—by addressing the controversy head-on. In her response, Thomas exclaimed that she had no authority in the casting process and that women writers, namely of color, should not be attacked over issues that are out of their reach.

Speaking to complaints of casting “the same five actors,” Thomas retorts by pointing out the hypocrisy in how accepting YA audiences are when films starred the “same non-pocs.”

Bringing the conversation back to balance, Thomas assured her fans that she’s just grateful her book was chosen to be adapted altogether.

At least there’s something good to come out of this conversation: Thomas is busy at work on a second book, hopefully, one as equally successful and thought-provoking as its predecessor.

My verdict on the discussion: Don’t come for creators, come for Hollywood.

Black people, let us not pretend that we haven’t been force-fed the same formula year after year. While I have no dog in the race that is this colorism conversation, I think it’s important to draw on exactly which stories are being told and by whom.

Admittedly, I haven’t read THUG myself. I’m sure it’s well-written and provokes meaningful conversation, however, based on its context alone, it would not be my first pick from the movie theater marquee anyway. Does this make me ignorant to the attachment readers of color have with this book? Absolutely not.

However, I feel like Black people have become somewhat complacent with pidgeon-holed narratives that depict us in subordinate, stereotypical vacancies of reality—a reality, I must say, that does not align with my own. I don’t want to read stories derived from innocent Black men being gunned down, and I don’t want to watch them on-screen—I see enough nightmarish shit scrolling down my Facebook and Twitter timeline to remind me of how even more fucked up our society has become.

Criticize me all you want, but I’m over the “struggle stories,” so you can miss me with the bullshit. What’s even more exhausting is the current lack of films in the brilliant manner of Hidden FiguresMoonlight, stories that go against the grain and prove Black people are more multifaceted and complex and unlimited. That antiquated formula has been rinsed, repeated and recycled for the in white Hollywood, and I’m not spending my money on that shit.

Still, that’s not to suggest those narratives do not exist, however, they remain outnumbered.

In all, I am happy for Thomas. Any debut writer should be thrilled to have their work adapted for film, and that’s a huge accomplishment no writer should be reprimanded for.

My fellow Black youth, however, you are absolutely correct to keep a watchful eye on exactly who is telling our stories. But by who, I don’t mean Stenberg or her castmates.

And with that, stay woke.

What do you think about the casting news surrounding The Hate U Give?

Do you believe Stenberg was right for the role? Are fans blowing things out of proportion? Do they have a point?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Paris Close
the authorParis Close
Founding Editor. Give me Gillian Flynn or give me death.