Amandla Stenberg, Social Activist and Actor, Makes Hollywood Smarter

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Amandla Stenberg started performing when she was very young and she rose to fame in her breakout role as Rue in the 2012 movie The Hunger Games. Since then, she’s become a public figure, and not just for her acting roles: Amandla regularly receives media attention for her social activism. The seventeen year old isn’t shy about speaking up on issues that matter to her, and in 2015, Dazed called her, “one of the most incendiary voices of her generation.”

Last year, Amandla made a video about cultural appropriation for a school project and decided to share it on Tumblr. In the video, called “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” Amandla talked about how white celebrities often co-opt things like black hairstyles and hip-hop without understanding the history behind them. She asks, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?” To Amandla’s surprise, the video went viral. She told Elle, “I realized for the first time how powerful my social media platform is as a tool for social justice. I recognized how much people wanted to have these conversations.”

Photo: via Amandla Stenberg

After the success of her video, Amandla began to express herself even more via social media. She regularly tweets and Instagrams about feminism, social issues and the work of her favorite organizations. Amandla is a youth ambassador with No Kid Hungry, which works to end childhood hunger in the United States. She also supports the Ubuntu Education Fund, a nonprofit that provides educational services to children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In 2015, she co-hosted ComEd’s Ice Box Derby, a competition in which thirty teenage girls build racecars out of old refrigerators. The event encourages young women to get involved in STEM programs.

Amandla realizes that activism sometimes attracts critics, but that’s not going to keep her silent. She told Essence, “I recognize that people who respond negatively to what I have to say aren’t at a place yet where they are able to learn. And I know that that’s not personal. That’s unfortunately a product of society as a whole. And it’s exactly what I’m trying to fight.”

While she plans to continue acting, Amandla is interested in working behind the camera, too. In 2014, she directed a short film, The Yellow Wallpaper, based on the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She wrote, directed, and edited the 2016 short Blue Girls Burn Fast. She also directed a series of #BlackGirlMagic videos for Teen Vogue. In the future, Amandla hopes to study filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and work firsthand at making Hollywood more diverse. “I want to see dynamic characters and roles that everyone wants to watch. And I want to create roles for black women, specifically, that are really empowering, dynamic, and nuanced and that are leads because, actually, there are really very few,” she told Elle.

In 2015, Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard were both named “Feminist Celebrity of the Year” by the Ms. Foundation for Women. Judging by her success so far, Amandla will serve as a role model for other young feminists and activists for many years to come.