‘Everything, Everything’s Amandla Stenberg has grown into a style icon and teen star
Amandla Stenberg is a style icon and teen star.
‘Growing up is weird, and then in the context of acting and movies and being in the public eye, it gets weirder,” confesses Amandla Stenberg, the actress who first captivated audiences as District 11’s super-cute child warrior Rue in 2012’s The Hunger Games.
Perhaps that’s because Stenberg, now 18 and a high-school graduate, has emerged as a Gen Y sensation for her activities offscreen, from engaging her fans in a dialogue about gender on her website (“I don’t necessarily always subscribe to female pronouns just because I don’t think that pronouns are necessarily meaningful,” she says) to making statement videos such as “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” which has been viewed on Youtube more than 2.2 million times. As she tells WHO, “You don’t really have to conform to those constructs in order to be valid or be worth something. It’s been such a blessing to watch people who care about what I have to say feel more comfortable in their identities because they see I’m out here doing my thing.”
And what Stenberg is doing is tapping into youth culture with her latest film, the big-screen adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s bestselling YA novel Everything, Everything (in cinemas on Aug. 24). She plays Maddy, a secluded teenager with a frail immune system who falls in love with her new neighbour ( Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) but has to stay indoors because or her precarious condition.
Her mother (Anika Noni Rose), a doctor, remains protective to a fault, even as her daughter pines for a long-distance love with the boy next door. “Maddy’s in this terrible situation, but she makes the best of it and has a centre that’s strong,” Yoon says, adding that Stenberg was perfectly cast as her protagonist. “Amandla has a real strength, but she’s optimistic and positive.”
In keeping with her activist sensibilities, Stenberg, whose father is from Denmark and mother is from the Bronx, New York, hopes Yoon’s story strikes a nerve with anyone who has felt trapped by heredity or circumstance, by their parents or their own thoughts. “It’s about that creepy feeling when you feel really isolated, or you’re surrounded by people and wanting to escape,” she says. “Sometimes [escape] can be risky. Sometimes you learn the most beautiful lessons.”
Although the studious Stenberg was accepted to New York University’s film school, she isn’t enrolling in classes quite yet. She’ll next appear as a mixed-race girl living in Hitler’s Germany in Where Hands Touch, a part for which she shaved her head. “I used to dedicate all my energy to taking care of my hair,” she conceded. “It’s been really freeing to present myself to the world exactly as I am.” Her 1.3 million Instagram followers appreciate that candour, too, regarding her as style icon. But away from her magazine covers and appearances at Fashion Week shows, Stenberg continues to work. She has started on a new YA adaptation, The Darkest Minds, about teens who survive a plague and emerge with superpowers. After that, she’ll star in The Hate U Give, about a girl who witnesses the police shooting of an unarmed black friend. “Since I graduated, I’ve pretty much been working nonstop,” she says. “It felt like jumping into the deep end of the pool when it comes to adulthood.”
At the New York screening of Everything, Everything on April 30, Stenberg revealed her “dangerous” new buzzcut. Stenberg plays Maddy Whittier opposite Nick Robinson’s wooing neighbour film Olly Bright in the Everything, Everything. SHE’S THE VOICE Stenberg has been a featured speaker at an Oprah Supersoul Session and was told by Beyoncé once, “When Blue grows up, I want her to be just like you.” Of her own identity, she tells WHO gender “can be pretty much whatever you want it to be.” Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen (left) comforts Stenberg’s tribute Rue in 2012’s The Hunger Games.
“You don’t really have to conform ... to be valid”
Famous friends “Warm hugs,” Stenberg posted on April 11, 2016. Oprah has called her a visionary. In 2015, when they were both 16, Stenberg took a beskirted Jaden Smith to her prom as her date. Stenberg, Zoë Kravitz (middle) and Solange Knowles at a 2016 Alexander Wang show.