LIFE LESSONS

‘Ev­ery­thing, Ev­ery­thing’s Amandla Sten­berg has grown into a style icon and teen star

WHO - - Content - By An­thony Brezni­can and Cyn­thia Wang, with re­port­ing by Melody Chiu

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.

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