Steady. Thoughtful. Vulnerable. Watching Amandla Stenberg’s evolution over the years has included far more than just movie credits and paparazzi flashes. The 17-year-old actress, earlier this week feted at this year’s Black Girls Rock celebration, exudes a deep understanding of how to consciously grapple with identity as a means of survival. In return, we feel the same and recognize similar emotions in ourselves— to fearlessly love Black women and unabashedly challenge cultural appropriation all while remaining authentic and proud. Her words are like that silent head nod of recognition from a stranger walking down the street. Stenberg inspires people far beyond her work on the big screen and it is obvious that this is only the beginning.
Her latest venture, Niobe, She is Life, is a comic book series which features a young, female warrior grappling with her destiny and identity. Stenberg will also star in The Hate You Give, a film based on the novel by Angela Thomas and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. EBONY chatted with the ingénue about her writing process, her future in Hollywood, and what “Black Girl Magic” really means to her.
EBONY.com: What can readers look forward to in the upcoming issue of Niobe?
AMANDLA STENBERG: The stakes are definitely being raised. With Niobe’s character established in the first issue, we’ve been able to go further with the other characters in the second. There’s a potential love triangle, a hero moment for Niobe, and a hint at some family drama.
EBONY.com: Describe your writing process and do you usually find yourself leaning toward certain themes?
AMANDLA STENBERG: The writing process is incredibly collaborative. I’ve already completed Niobe’s story, and now, it’s just a matter of deciding what to reveal in what issue. My writing partner, Sebastian Jones, is more familiar with writing comic books than I am and so he does a lot of the language.
The themes I tend to gravitate towards are ones that I see reflected in my own life. Niobe is growing up and learning about herself and her place in the world. She struggles with having a mixed identity, and learns that she must ground herself in spirituality and discipline in order to stay true to herself.
EBONY.com: High school is drawing to a close for you. Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that may have helped you grow along the way?
AMANDLA STENBERG: The most important lesson I’ve learned is to not limit myself. Kids at my age often get intimidated by the idea of adulthood and feel like they have to know exactly who they are and what they want to do with their lives. I’ve realized that it’s okay to take my time figuring it out and exploring different aspects of myself instead of fixating on one idea of who I am.
EBONY.com: If you had to listen to just one album and read just one book for the rest of your life, what would they be and why?
AMANDLA STENBERG: It’s nearly impossible for me to narrow my favorite albums down to just one, but I’d say the three albums I could live on forever would be Cupid Deluxe by Blood Orange, The Beatles White Album, and Channel Orange by Frank Ocean. Now, If I had to read just one book for the rest of my life, it would be Beloved by Toni Morrison. There are so many lessons and dynamics to explore and learn in that book. Each time I read it I discover something new.
EBONY.com: As an actress of color, what are your thoughts about the lack of diversity and opportunities in the film industry, whether it’s the Oscars or on the big screen and do you think there will be a shift in the near future?
AMANDLA STENBERG: The biggest shift we are witnessing right now is in mainstream media. Large corporations are feeling a societal pressure to include more diversity in the films they make and that’s why it’s so important to speak out. They know what their audiences wants and our desire to see ourselves represented is beginning to overpower the exclusion and racism of the past. My hope is to see people of color in roles that do not emphasize race. Often times when movies are centered around people of color, they are movies where the storyline is based on some racial component. I want to see movies where people of color play more interesting, nuanced characters.
EBONY.com: You exude a level of thoughtfulness and vulnerability that inspires people of all ages. What has given you such a deep understanding of yourself and your place in the world?
AMANDLA STENBERG: My parents allowed me to be who I am. When I was younger, they never pushed me in a particular direction. They treated me and my decisions with the same respect that adults receive. That allowed me to feel confident in my abilities and not be afraid to share what’s on my mind.
EBONY.com: What does the idea of “Black Girl Magic” mean to you?
AMANDLA STENBERG: It’s a radiant revolution against misogynoir [misogyny directed towards Black women] and internalized hatred. Black women are subject to so many societal messages that tell them they are not beautiful, smart, or capable. Black Girl Magic is the conscious unraveling of those toxic concepts through self-love and acceptance. It preaches that despite the pressures I face, I glow more than ever before.