Young female voices are often overlooked in Hollywood, while young women of color are all but ignored. The egregious lack of diversity on the big and small screens has long been the status quo. After all, white men have dominated Hollywood since its inception, and while there continues to be a push for diversity in television, thanks in part to the incendiary success of Fox's "Empire," there's still a major diversity problem -- both on-screen and behind the scenes -- in the entertainment industry at large.
For brazen teen star Amandla Stenberg, the lack of representation for young, black women in Hollywood galvanized her to find her tribe elsewhere: online. Specifically, social media.
The 17-year-old "Hunger Games" star made our hearts swoon when she schooled the Internet on cultural appropriation this past April, asking "What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?" Now, the actress, activist and all-around badass teen covers the February issue of Teen Vogue, and she's speaking out about what it's like being a young, black woman in an industry that, frankly, doesn't respect her voice.
"It was when I was 12 and I got cast in 'The Hunger Games,' and people called me the N-word and said that the death of my character, Rue, would be less sad because I was black," Stenberg said in an earnest and empathetic conversation with Solange Knowles. "That was the first moment I realized being black was such a crucial part of my identity in terms of the way that I was perceived and how it would affect any line of work that I wanted to pursue."
"I often find myself in situations where I am the token black person," she added. "It can feel like this enormous weight. I have definitely had moments when my hair felt too big or like I needed to make myself... smaller and easier to digest. And that’s still something that I struggle with now, you know? But I think, honestly, social media has changed that in a lot of ways because in the past you could look only to movies or TV or music or celebrities in order to feel like you had representation. Now you can go on Instagram and you can see a girl who looks like you who is killing the game and expressing herself. Just being able to see that is so affirming."
Regardless of what you may think, social media is about building a community -- a tribe of impassioned, young people with insatiable appetites for knowledge and creativity. Not to mention, because of technology, teens are less lonely than ever before. Millions of teens like Stenberg rely on social media as a means of community and representation. They can find people who have similar wants and interests, and most importantly, people who look like them.
Representation is crucial. It's extremely isolating for young people to never see characters that look like them, and that they can relate to, on television, in movies or even in books.
Simply put, since the entertainment industry is failing them, they're turning elsewhere to find that sense of connection -- and they're changing the game in the process.