Amandla Stenberg is one of the most important young actresses on the scene right now, and not just because of her role in The Hunger Games. Her viral video about cultural appropriation pushed her into the spotlight as a voice for social justice, speaking out about feminism, police brutality and Black Lives Matter. She recently got a role in a movie where she will play a teenager who’s best friend has been shot by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Amandla Stenberg.
On her favorite role so far
While she might not be sure if she can pick a fave role, she did love being in The Hunger Games. Amandla says it was basically like summer camp because they were all in the woods together for 3 months, playing pranks and having sleepovers. Sounds like a blast.
On how she got the role
Getting the role of Rue was very competitive so Amandla came up with an unconventional idea. Not only did she read the book four times, but she turned up at the director’s house covered in mud, with leaves and twigs in her hair, to look like she had been lost in the wilderness. After that she found out she got the part.
On how she made the viral video
Amandla didn’t set out to make her video viral. She actually made it for a school project and then it blew up virtually overnight. She then realized how powerful social media is for social justice. She now shares more writing and opinions to her platforms, and it has changed the course of her acting career because she wants to incorporate social justice into the roles she takes on in acting.
On how she started talking about political issues
Amandla says, “Me talking about political issues on a social platform was kind of an accident. It’s something that’s a part of my everyday — it’s super central to who I am as a person.” Amandla says her parents have also helped shaped her and that she and her Dad text news clips about social justice issues to each other.
On accepting her role as a voice in the conversation
Amandla admits that it’s a lot of pressure. She didn’t expect the video to be so controversial, and then she was labeled as “revolutionary” and “the voice of a generation.” But she knows it’s worth it when people tell her things like “I’m more comfortable in my identity because of you,” or “I feel like you’ve given me a voice.” Making change isn’t easy, especially when you’re just a teenager, but Amandla is bravely facing social justice issues head on.
On dealing with Twitter haters
While she might be setting out to change the world for the better, that doesn’t mean there aren’t haters trying to tear her down. Amandla tries to refrain from checking her personal mentions on Twitter because she knows it will bring her down. When she got the role of Rue, Twitter blew up because people didn’t want Rue to be black. Amandla says it was the first time she has ever experienced blatant racism. “When [those tweets] happened, I really tried not to look at what was going on. It was pretty shocking to see some of the articles that compiled the tweets I received.”
On balancing acting and school
It definitely isn’t easy. Amandla says she’s going to take a gap year and use the time to find herself. She eventually wants to go to NYU Tisch for writing and directing. “I want to see dynamic characters and roles that everyone wants to watch. And I want to create roles for Black women, specifically, that are really empowering, dynamic, and nuanced and that are leads because, actually, there are really very few.”
On keeping her hair natural
When she was younger she said she struggled a lot with her hair, and did a lot of treatments to make it look straight. But then in the last year she realized she didn’t have to do that, and all the treated hair off so it could grow back naturally. “All of the sudden, it gave me so much more confidence. I’m so much more comfortable with my hair, my body, and everything.”
On what she wore to prom
Amandla slayed at prom. She said she planned it with her girl squad, saying “week before prom and we were like, ‘We need to plan out our looks so that we can walk into prom and be the most bomb squad in the game.’ So we actually kind of planned each other’s outfits and hair and makeup.” She wore a septum ring and silver box braids and went full on metallic.
On going to prom with Jayden
Her platonic prom date was Jayden Smith. Although she didn’t help him plan his outfit, Amandla says he texted her the day of and was like “Yo, I think I’m going to wear a dress,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, you do you.’ Jayden wore a long skirt with sneakers, which was cool with Amandla who said “I love it when guys can be feminine and express their emotions and creativity; it shows strength.”
Bonus: On being young and having a voice
If you ever feel like someone isn’t listening to you because you’re young, Amandla has a pretty sharp response to that. “I think people discredit teenagers and how wise they can be. Sometimes I meet teenagers who are much wiser than many adults I’ve met, because they haven’t let any insecurities or doubts about themselves get in the way of their thoughts.”