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Amandla Stenberg talks about social activist dangers in INTERVIEW Magazine

by Tasharna Brown-Taylor Thursday, March 31st, 2016
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Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg covers the latest issue of INTERVIEW magazine.

The 17-year-old outspoken teen, who is set to start classes this fall at the New York University film school, talks about the dangers of being labeled a social activist and how it could affect her career, why she want’s to become a director, her coming out as bisexual and many more.

Read the highlights from the interview below:

INTERVIEW: Congratulations on getting in to NYU film school. Is that something you’ve always been interested in doing? 

AMANDLA STENBERG: Definitely. I mean, I’ve pretty much grown up on set, and my favorite part about it is being able to actually see how movies are made. I knew when I was about 14 that I wanted to be a director and that I wanted to go to NYU for film school. It kind of feels like it’s been a long time coming. [laughs] It’s a relief to actually be in, because the college process is so hyped-up. 

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INTERVIEW: What do you think about #OscarsSoWhite?

STENBERG: There are some really valid things in what Jada Pinkett Smith said. I’m really passionate about representation in film. I feel like the world is dominated by such a small group of human beings. There are so many different kinds of people that aren’t represented, that don’t have characters who look like them. And that’s one of the reasons why I intend on being a director, because I want to actually tell some of these stories. I also think that we place such intense emphasis on award shows when they’re not necessarily the best reflection of how good the work is. We need to realize that art and creation are so much bigger than an award or any measure of accomplishment.

INTERVIEW: I’m so glad to see you pushing boundaries and using your voice to create a broader and broader platform for discussion. But I wonder, do you worry about being tagged the conscious actress and director? Do you worry about tokenism in the media?

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STENBERG: It’s definitely something I think about. Yes, there’s something dangerous about turning people into token social activists. I was thinking about this recently with our pop-culture feminism, when feminism is such a buzzword in the media now. We’re covering it in a way that we haven’t before, but also in a way that’s way more surface level. And while I think that there’s some danger in that, I also think it’s a great gateway for some people. It introduces people to that world so much faster and so much more easily than ever before. And, yes, I do definitely get boxed into this #BlackGirlMagic social activist category. But it makes me think, “Well, maybe people are able to start thinking about that concept earlier and will hopefully be inspired to delve deeper into it and research it more.” I think that’s just how the media works. It’s just very good at compartmentalizing human beings.

INTERVIEW: It’s interesting how making the personal public is a political act. Like, you’ve talked a little bit about your sexuality, and that becomes a political statement.

STENBERG: Exactly.

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INTERVIEW: But you handled it with such ease and sort of comfort, which is also political—leading by example. Like, we don’t need to be so heavy-footed when we are talking about sexuality and gender and race. It just seems to come very easily to you. Does that come with a lot of education? Or is that because you’re speaking naturally?

STENBERG: I think it comes because I’m speaking naturally. I mean, unfortunately or not unfortunately, take it as you will, when you are a marginalized person or a woman of color and/or someone who’s a part of the LGBTQ community, your acts become politicized, just by being yourself. Because we’re not completely accepting of all different kinds of human beings. So that’s been an interesting dynamic for me to navigate. [laughs] By being myself, I’m doing something political.

INTERVIEW: Well, I actually did see someone tweet something like, “I hope it’s not your politics that made you come out as bi.” [both laugh] The world is a really weird place.

STENBERG: But that’s how intersectionality works. I oftentimes receive the question, “What do you think is the most important social issue to focus on?” Or, “What’s the most important component of identity? Is it gay rights or race or feminism?” And I’m like, “Well, they’re all intertwined. It’s all one conversation at the end of the day. You can’t just pick one.” I mean, people experience all kinds of prejudice because of all different parts of themselves. And that doesn’t make one part more important than the other. We live in a society that does not openly accept every kind of human being. And so the result is when you are yourself and someone who’s marginalized, it becomes a revolutionary act—just being comfortable in your own body and being comfortable speaking, sharing your ideas. It’s really amazing and also, like, kind of sad. [laughs] I hope one day it’s not revolutionary just to be yourself, but I think that the work that’s being done around identity and personhood is so important. I feel inspired by people around me who are part of this movement as well: Hari Nef and Rowan Blanchard and Willow Smith and these kids who are really not going to listen to anyone. “I’m just going to say whatever I feel. I’m going to be myself. And if you don’t like it, then, you can go screw yourself.” [both laugh]

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INTERVIEW: Well, yeah. None of us has any idea what we’re doing. We’re all just sort of figuring it out on the run. [both laugh]

STENBERG: Exactly. And I think part of growing up is not actually finding a fixed idea of who you are, but rather being like, “Oh, wait. I’m different all the time. I’m going to change every second and grow and be fluid.” And that’s okay.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Photo credit- Gregory Harris


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