Sixteen-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in the first Hunger Games movie, set the Internet ablaze this week when she shared a video she produced with classmate Quinn Masterson, addressing issues of race, identity, and cultural appropriation. Initially released on Sternberg’s tumblr page and subsequently picked up by major outlets such as HuffPost Black Voices, the video, entitled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows: A Crash Discourse in Black Culture,” explains how hip-hop specifically and black culture in general have used black hair to establish identity and cultural pride, as well as the myriad ways in which pop and mainstream culture have adopted not just black hairstyles, but hip-hop fashion, language, and other critical culture markers as its own. Sternberg points out the many white artists and celebrities (Kendall Jenner, Fergie, Riff Raff, for example) who turned heads and made headlines rocking cornrows, while mainstream media has taken the opportunity to make cornrows a “new” fashion statement, even though they have been part of African and African American culture for generations.
While the video has garnered quite a bit of praise as it’s been shared across multiple social media platforms, it hasn’t come without some controversy. Billboard magazine ran the headline “‘Hunger Games’ star Amandla Stenberg criticized Taylor Swift and Madonna for ‘rampant’ appropriation of black culture,” causing the young star to take them to task for misrepresenting the tone and context of the piece on Twitter.
Still, the video has sparked quite a bit of conversation via social media, which will do doubt spill over into real-world dialogue.