Three months ago actress Amandla Stenberg, best known for her role as Rue in the action film “The Hunger Games,” posted a video about race on her tumblr page, reportedly as part of a history class project.
Now that video has suddenly gone viral.
In the video, entitled “Don’t Cash Crop my Cornrows,” the 16-year-old biracial actress breaks down the history of cultural appropriation, a practice where people adopt the trappings of a culture they don’t belong to.
Stenberg calls out celebrities like Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift for allegedly appropriating black culture by twerking, wearing grills, and speaking in Ebonics – among other things. She also criticizes the fashion industry for presenting traditionally black hairstyles as new fashion finds, like when Marie Claire deemed Kendall Jenner “bold” and “epic” for wearing cornrows.
She draws a distinct line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange: “The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is always going to be blurred,” she explains in her video. “But here’s the thing: Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in.”
To that end, she notes that white rappers like Iggy Azalea sometimes find success in traditionally black mediums, but don’t “speak on the racism that comes along with black identity” by not addressing issues like the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
She ends with a poignant question, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”
Stenberg found herself at the center of a racially tinged firestorm in 2012 when she was first cast as Rue in “The Hunger Games.” Many fans of the series took to social media to express their outrage that a black actress had won the role, even though the character is described as having “dark brown skin and eyes” in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novel, which inspired the film.