STACK caught up with the influential young actress ahead of the release of new dystopian drama The Darkest Minds, in which she plays a super-powered teen.
When Amandla Stenberg made her powerful debut as Rue in The Hunger Games six years ago, she was unwittingly set on a career path of portraying strong young women.
Since then she has used her social media platform as a personal crusade to spread social awareness on various topics including cultural appropriation, feminism, mindfulness, biracial identity, and beauty standards.
Named among TIME Magazine’s 2015 and 2016 Most Influential Teens, Oprah Winfrey invited her to speak at her annual SuperSoul Sessions, Oprah’s version of a TED Talk.
Even Beyonce took note, casting her in film scenes for Lemonade and declaring, “When Blue grows up, I want her to be just like you.”
Starring in last year’s romantic teen drama Everything, Everything, it’s no surprise that Stenberg, 19, now shows up as the super-powered Ruby in Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s film adaptation of Alexandra Bracken’s best-selling dystopian drama, The Darkest Minds.
Paired with an equally strong female role model in Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie, Stenberg was in awe: “She was so cool and such a sweet yet powerful woman who knows what she’s about and knows what she deserves. She was very kind and respectful to everyone around her, and I really learned from her in seeing how she navigated a set.”
Recalling one potent scene, where 6’ 3” Christie is locked in combat with Stenberg – a whole 12 inches shorter – she says, “You really see our height difference where I have to grab her wrist and bring her down to her knees, but after the first take, she was like, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re grabbing my wrist too hard’. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry’. I didn’t even conceive of my own strength in comparison to hers because she has such an amazing form. I apologised and went a lot softer.”
With upcoming roles in crime drama The Hate U Give and Nazi Germany romance Where Hands Touch, Stenberg was delighted to be cast against type in The Darkest Minds.
“My character, Ruby, is written in the book as having straight hair and green eyes, not that a black person can’t have straight hair and green eyes, but there’s an assumption with most media that the go-to is white. So it was surprising, in a really great way, that they were interested in casting diverse – casting me.
“I thought a lot about the power of having a black girl in that role. We’ve seen franchises like this before, but not necessarily franchises with a black lead.”
Director Yuh Nelson explains how Stenberg had her from hello. “Amandla was only 17 years old when we first met, and what struck me was just how wise she was already. She has such a natural presence. It wasn’t like it was mannered or anything, just a genuine strong presence, and the Ruby character required a balance of strength and vulnerability and wisdom in experiencing all the things that happen in the movie. So seeing her so radiant with this inner strength and power but such a delicate vulnerability, it was an instant decision for me.”
Stenberg was equally smitten, “I love any hero’s journey, but more so when you get to see them cultivate their growth over time, not necessarily be endowed with it from the jump – just because I don’t think anyone has that experience of being strong right out the gate, without moments of insecurity and doubt before finding our voice and strength.”
And, in those words, Stenberg could equally be describing her own path.
The Darkest Minds is in cinemas on August 16