‘The Darkest Minds’ Movie Talk #2: The Importance of Representation

Every Monday and Friday we’re bringing you The Darkest Minds content leading up to the film’s Aug. 3 release

There is so much that we can learn from literature, especially Young Adult literature. YA has garnered a reputation for being about the fangirls and what-not because women — young and old alike — are compelled by these coming-of-age stories as young men and women learn first-hand what it takes to grow up. But that hasn’t stopped these all-important stories from being relevant. Nor has it stopped Hollywood from bringing them to life.
The latest YA adaptation to grace the big screen is Fox’s The Darkest Minds, which tells the story of Ruby and three runaway teens (Liam, Zu, and Chubs) as they seek safe haven from a society that deems them dangerous because of the abilities they have developed. Along the way, these teenagers learn the true meaning of family and the importance of self-empowerment — especially when it comes to embracing your differences. It’s an all-important coming-of-age story that celebrates diversity and differences.
Representation is important. Representation matters. And representation in media is significant because there are millions looking to these mediums and it’s important for them to see someone that looks like them. And we’ve lived in a world that’s neglected that more often than not. But times are changing, and we’re slowly beginning to see more diversity in mainstream media.
Leading the charge on the YA front is Amandla Stenberg, who plays leading heroine Ruby Daly in The Darkest Minds. One of the biggest draws for Stenberg was that there was a desire to cast a woman of color in the leading role. And that’s not something she takes lightly.
“It was a really incredible role and they were willing to cast a person of color in it,” Stenberg told us and reporters during a set visit last year. “That’s actually kind of a rarity, so that was a thing that was really special to me. It’s not very often that I’ve gotten these kind of opportunities in my life so you have to take them because they’re amazing.”
The YA genre is incredibly important because it tells stories of young men and young women as they learn what it takes to grow up and how they’re responsible for their own destiny. It also gives young adults an outlet, as well as gives them something to look when they’re looking for something to relate to.
From The Hunger Games to Divergent to The Mortal Instruments to The 5th Wave to Vampire Academy, there have been a slew of YA adaptations that have been adapted from book to screen. They’ve featured unique heroines that have each taught us something. The one thing that all of those leading ladies have in common is that they’re white. Not that it takes anything away from the characters individually, but there’s a lack of diversity in YA adaptations that’s disconcerting. These stories should continue to represent our society — and our society is diverse.
“I don’t think we get to see these kinds of stories that often where a black girl is the lead,” Stenberg said. “I don’t necessarily think we need another one with another white girl. Even though I love those stories and respect them. I just think it’s time to switch it up a bit.”
While a woman of color landing this leading role is a huge step in the right direction for diversity, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson said that it wasn’t their intention to make a bold statement in that way. Although diversity in this film has always been important to Nelson and author Alexandra Bracken. Three of the four main kids that we follow in The Darkest Minds aren’t white — Ruby and Chubs are black, Zu is Asian, and Liam is white. It might not seem monumental, but it’s very important.

“It was important to me and it was also important to Alexandra Bracken, the author,” Nelson said of diversity in the story. “When we first talked about the movie she said, ‘I don’t get to add more, so don’t take any out.’ Of course you want to make the characters the characters. Their arc is their arc. In the case of Chubs and Zu and Liam, we tried to make sure we were very true to who they were. And in that way, it’s just an amazing actor. Even Alexandra said she hadn’t really thought about what they looked like. She had actually just put down in the script you can throw yourself into that character. Because of that we just went for that actress in the role regardless. That happened to add diversity, but that wasn’t what we were looking for. We were just looking for the best choice.”
While Nelson might not have been trying to make a bold statement by casting a leading lady of color, the fact of the matter is that casting Stenberg in that leading role is important. It’s important to young black women. It’s important to the future of representation in mainstream media as we know it.
Stenberg has been lucky to be a woman of color that has had now three leading roles in Young Adult adaptations — Everything, Everything and the upcoming The Hate You Give and The Darkest Minds. And Stenberg recognizes the significance of that.
“I feel like I’m put in a very special position where I’m one of the first actresses of this time to be able to do that and to take roles that would traditionally go to white people, which is really crazy and really a blessing,” she said.

The Darkest Minds hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 3.

Stay tuned to Fangirlish every Monday and Friday for more The Darkest Minds Movie Talk leading up to the film’s release.

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