'Hunger Games' Actress Amandla Stenberg Returns With Teen Romance 'Everything, Everything'
You may know her as little Rue from ‘The Hunger Games‘, but Amandla Stenberg has definitely grown up.
Nowadays, when she isn’t busy being an activist for issues such as cultural appropriation and diversity, the 18-year-old actress is taking on some pretty ground-breaking roles in Hollywood. In her most recent film, ‘Everything, Everything‘, she plays the role of Maddy Whittier, a teenage girl who has never been outside due to a serious illness.
Of course, acting and activism aren’t Amandla’s only specialities. She’s also the co-author of a series of comic books, and has written extensively about subjects close to her heart in several published novels. She wrote, produced and directed a short film named ‘Blue Girls burn fast‘, and co-wrote the theme song with Willow Smith (yes, Willow Smith).
In 2016, she gave a lecture on Oprah Winfrey’s TV Network about authenticity; and was mentioned in Time Magazine’s list of most influential teens. She made an iconic appearance in Beyonce’s music video for ‘Freedom‘ and, last but not least, have you heard the girl sing?
Flawless may be too little of a word to describe her.
I caught up with Amandla on the morning of the New York premiere for her new film, Everything, Everything. 6.30am for her, 2.30pm for me. Despite those clearly ungodly hours, the 18-year-old actress was more than charming as she filled me in on the many hectic tasks that she was set to conquer throughout the day. (Fun fact: it turns out that walking the red carpet, as glamorous a feat it may seem, is no easy job – especially if it’s for the premiere of your own film.)
It wasn’t long before we reached the subject of her many achievements, and – needless to say – she definitely had some stories to tell …
Kemi: So I haven’t gotten around to reading it, but I do understand that Nicole Yoon’s book (Everything, Everything) has a pretty big fanbase. Was it daunting to take on a film with such a big audience already or were you, like, completely unbothered by it after starring in the Hunger Games?
Amandla: Well, I already have the previous experience of being in a young adult movie and a book-to-movie adaptation with a fanbase, so it was less daunting. But what’s so cool about being a part of this is, most of it is positive excitement. There’s a lot of support from these really dedicated teenagers, and so it’s less stressful. Of course, there’s the concerns about pleasing the fans and making sure that they feel like the book is well represented, but you can’t stress too much on it. You can only do your best and just try to keep the feeling, the tone and the spirit of the book alive.
Kemi: Whilst I was watching the film, I noticed that it has quite a diverse cast. You have Anika Noni Rose and Ana de la Regeura [starring]. Was it important for you to be part of a diverse cast for this film?
Amandla: For me, that was one of the reasons why I did this film. I’m not someone who is typically really into young adult romance stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of this nature that features an interracial couple, where race is not a conversation in the film. They just are, and I think that’s really special – especially in today’s day and age. I think Hollywood is feeling the pressure to diversify, and I’m able to be a part of that weight and take these roles that people need to see.
Kemi: That actually leads quite nicely into my next question. I came across your YouTube video – ‘Don’t cash crop my cornrows‘ and it’s clear that you’re quite passionate about topics such as cultural appropriation and diversity. How did you become such a prominent voice in that discourse? Was it a conscious decision or something where you just couldn’t keep silent?
Amandla: I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision, but I did grow up in a black area in LA and I’ve been around a lot of things that I think are messed up. I’ve also had the opportunity to join an elite class of people by being an actor. So I feel like it is my innate social responsibility to use that well, not just sit on my ass and go to celebrity parties and all that. I feel like, if I have this position in the world and I’ve successfully been able to infiltrate this industry, then I need to use it as best as I can.
Kemi: Well, that’s a responsibility that you’ve taken on quite well and it shows through the kinds of projects that you take on – especially as of recent. The film that you’re going to star in soon, ‘Where Hands Touch‘, touches on a topic that no-one ever talks about – World War 2 and black people during the Holocaust. How was it to work with with Amma Asante for that role?
Amandla: It was absolutely incredible, being around her, her beauty and intelligence. I really look up to her. I’m just so grateful to have had that opportunity. I think it’s really shaped me as a person and it gives me the courage to do what I want to do with the platform that I have.
Kemi: Speaking of the platform that you have and all the amazing work that you’ve done, I think one of the things that I noticed in particular was your appearance in Beyonce’s music video for ‘Freedom‘- which was amazing, by the way. How was it being featured in a music video with Queen B herself?
Amandla: It was surreal. I think I still haven’t coped with the fact that I got to do that. In my head, it’s all kind of like this hazy dream. We were called out to New Orleans with very little information, just that Beyonce wanted us to be a part of something. And when you get that call – you go. Lemonade was directed by Kahlil Joseph, who is a director that I really look up to and am blessed to know personally now. He’s the one who cast me in that project. He was looking for young people and teenagers and a cast of people who could reflect Black life in America and, like, the strength of Black womanhood. Everyone there was someone who I looked up to and inspired me – including Beyonce herself. I remember this one moment when we were all standing around this dinner table and Beyonce said that she wanted to speak, and so she stood up and we all held hands and she thanked God for us being able to be there and talked about how important it was that we were there and we all laughed and cried and hugged.
Kemi: Even hearing that, it’s like, I don’t understand how you can love Beyonce any more and yet you can. Okay, going back to your film, ‘Everything, Everything‘, I was completely swept up in the romance between Maddy and Ollie, because they had the most amazing chemistry. How did you and Nick Robinson go about developing and portraying such a realistic connection on screen?
Amandla: It was just one of those things where we clicked instantly. I don’t think chemistry is something that you can really force, or something that you can create unnaturally – it just was there from the start. And we were so glad that when we met each other that we liked each other and that we could be on the same page and get along.
Everything, Everything is a film based on a book by Nicola Yoon. It follows the story of an 18-year-old girl named Maddy, who is unable to leave her house due to a severe illness. When a boy named Olly moves in next door, however, Maddy begins to find it more difficult to stay away – especially as Olly makes her realise that there’s so much of the world to see.
You can catch the film when it’s released here in the UK on August 18th, but until then, why not check out the trailer down below?
Will you be watching Everything, Everything when it comes out? Let us know in the comments!
Images via Getty/Giphy/British Film Company/Warner Brothers/Lionsgate