'The Hate U Give' Cover Illustrator Clarifies Comments on Casting Controversy

Paula Rogo Aug, 02, 2018

The film adaption of Angie Thomas’ bestselling young adult novel The Hate U Give is ramping up for its release this fall, and the colorism controversy surrounding Amandla Stenberg’s casting in the lead role is back in the headlines.

This time it is the book’s illustrator Debra Cartwright — who created the eye-catching cover that is now being used as part of the film’s promotion — that is speaking up about colorism in Hollywood.

Cartwright said in an interview with Vulture this week that she was disappointed the film did not cast a darker skinned character in the lead role of Starr although the book, and subsequently the cover, describe a very brown skinned protagonist.

But clarifying to ESSENCE, the illustrator said the issue is not specific to the film.

“Across Hollywood, in general, there’s a lightening of our stories for mass consumption. That’s a systematic problem; not necessarily [a problem with] this movie.”

“I do feel like it’s a conversation that needs to be had so I don’t regret anything that I’ve said,” Cartwright continued, referring to the Vulture interview. “I think it needs to be put out in the forefront because it’s been so glossed over, because it’s so taboo to speak about.”

Stenberg has already acknowledged some of the criticism surrounding her casting, saying in an Instagram post last week that she had “heard concerns from my community…and I want those who are worried to know they are seen and heard.”

“The lack of diversity within the black girl representation we’re finally getting is apparent and it’s NOT ENOUGH, and I understand my role in the quest for onscreen diversity and the sensitivity I must have towards the colorism that I do not experience,” she continued.  “Do I aim to represent all black girls? Hell nah! Do I expect all black girls to feel represented by me? Absolutely not.”

Over the past year I’ve heard concerns from my community around my casting as Starr in The Hate U Give and I want those who are worried to know they are seen and heard. Something that I love most about the black community is the accountability and expectation for greatness and consciousness that we maintain. I hope Angie’s perspective can alleviate those concerns, though I don’t expect it to address the age old conundrum of colorism and I’m glad this conversation is being opened up. The lack of diversity within the black girl representation we’re finally getting is apparent and it’s NOT ENOUGH, and I understand my role in the quest for onscreen diversity and the sensitivity I must have towards the colorism that I do not experience. Do I aim to represent all black girls? Hell nah! Do I expect all black girls to feel represented by me? Absolutely not. We encompass a beautiful and expansive plethora of experiences, identities and shades and it would be ridiculous to assume that I should or could represent all of us. I want my sisters to know I navigate my industry with an acute awareness of how my accessibility contributes to the representation I am granted. I do so with a vigilance concerning the commodification of blackness and not taking up space that doesn’t belong to me. My biggest hope is that this precarious game of give and take we play with the historically white institution of Hollywood for the sake of representation can only lead to the diversity we want and deserve. I want to see my mama on screen. And my niece. I want to see my friends, my peers... and all those who have given me the blessing of their support. Let’s continue to demand depictions that don’t placate European beauty standards. And after all this if you still don’t mess with the casting, hey, that’s your prerogative! But let’s show up to THUG for BLM, for rich and profound portrayals of contemporary black experience, for exploration of the nuance of bias, for black girl realness 😁, for family, for gun control, for speaking up and out, for Philando, Tamir, Eric, Michael, Sandra and all the black lives that have been taken for no reason. ✊🏽

A post shared by amandla (@amandlastenberg) on

Thomas also opened up about the criticism during a live Q&A at ESSENCE Fest last month, saying that she always imagined Stenberg as Starr while writing the book.

“Amandla was cast as a star before there was a cover,” she said. “And when I was writing the book, I imagined Amandla.”

The New York Times bestselling author added, “Now the thing people don’t understand is that the authors don’t have control of the covers. So when I was given the cover I was told, ‘That’s the cover. You don’t have any say.’”

'The Hate U Give' Author Angie Thomas Had A Full Circle Moment When Amandla Was Cast In The Film

Talk about a full circle moment! #TheHateUGive book author, Angie Thomas, talks about how she always felt Amandla Stenberg was the perfect person to play the role of Starr. http://ow.ly/KIZg50i577W

Posted by Essence on Thursday, July 26, 2018

Cartwright for her part, says she is excited to see Stenberg on the big screen when the film premieres October 19, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that these colorism conversations need to happen.

“I would like to clarify that I’m clearly happy to be apart of the project,” she said. “I think Amandla is a wonderful actress and I think the issue I had with it is out of the hands of everyone I worked with.”

“You have to notice the patterns that continue to occur and how it’s affecting generations and beauty standards and who is getting the backing and the money,”Cartwright added. “It’s affecting all of us.”

Cartwright is a contract illustrator for ESSENCE. Britni Danielle contributed to this report.