EXCLUSIVE: Amandla Stenberg Talks ‘Everything, Everything’ & Sitting In The Director’s Chair
EXCLUSIVE: Amandla Stenberg is breaking down barriers and lighting up movie screens.
Five years ago, Amandla Stenberg stole our hearts as the mischievous and lovable Rue in 2012’s The Hunger Games, and since then, they have carved a path for themselves in the entertainment industry. From appearances in TV series like Sleepy Hallow and Mr. Robinson to giving us #BlackGirlMagic in Beyoncé’s Lemonade. And yet, with their new film Everything, Everything, Amandla Stenberg just proved they are ready to take Hollywood by storm.
Based on Nicola Yoon’s stunning YA novel and helmed by director Stella Meghie Everything, Everything follows Maddy Whittier (Stenberg), a teenage girl who is confined to her home because of a rare condition known as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). However, everything changes for Maddy, when a new boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door and the two fall in love.
Recently, JETmag.com spoke with Amandla Stenberg about Everything, Everything, their new music video “Let My Baby Stay” and why they aren’t set on acting for the rest of their life.
JET: Hi Amandla how are you?
Amandla Stenberg: Good. How are you doing?
JET: I’m wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much for speaking with me today.
AS: Yeah, absolutely.
JET: First of all, congratulations on Everything, Everything. I’m really excited to see this story on the big screen. How did you come onto this project? Had you read Nicola Yoon’s book prior to signing on?
AS: I received the script. When I received it, I kind of assumed it was for a white girl just because I saw that it was young adult and a romantic film featuring a male lead who was white, so I assumed it was some kind of mistake or something, that I had gotten it in my inbox. Also, it’s very rare for me to receive projects that are specifically written for Black girls. It took me a moment to realize that this was a project that was intentionally made for a biracial girl in the lead. When I saw that it was kind of a no-brainer. I mean it’s so rare to see roles like this and just do projects like this on the big screen. I saw how important and powerful it would be to play this character and this representation on screen that I don’t think we’ve really seen before in this way.
JET: Not at all. Why do you think stories like this are so important for young millennials, specifically for young, millennial women of color? We had Moesha in the nineties, and we see Yara Shahidi doing her black-ish spinoff, but there aren’t really any big projects for young Black millennial girls.
AS: I think you said it yourself. These projects don’t really exist so when they do come to fruition and are widely distributed across the entire world everyone gets to see a Black girl carrying a film that is not necessarily made just for a target Black audience and is not about race. They get to see a Black girl existing, and I think that’s one of the most powerful things, the humanization of Black people, the representation of Black people in media. I think when something like that comes out, it can change people’s perspectives on life.
JET: Definitely. That happened with Roots, that’s why it was such a phenomenon in the late seventies. How did you approach your portrayal of Maddy? Was it very claustrophobic to sort of always be confined?
AS: The story itself is, I mean it’s very whimsical. It’s very much based in fantasy. It’s not so much based in reality. So for that reason when we were approaching creating Maddy, it was about creating a character who experiences disease, but the film is not based in reality. She’s been so fiercely protected and guarded kind of in a Rapunzel-esque way. Because of that, she is really sweet and kind of naïve and a little awkward for sure, she definitely has difficulty interacting with people for the first time.
JET: Yes, she’s only ever with her mother and her nurse. What was it like working with this trifecta of Black women? Stella [Meghie] at the helm as director and Anika Noni Rose playing your mother all from the mind of Nicola Yoon. What was that like for you?
AS: It was powerful. I think even in making it; it felt historical. It just felt like something that hadn’t been done before. That’s not to say that there haven’t been projects that Black women have been at the helm of. But, I don’t think there have been projects like this that are for larger audiences and for everyone, being put out by this large studios and being curated and supported and crafted and everything by Black women.
JET: Definitely. I know that you just released “Let My Baby Stay,” which you recorded and directed and edited and starred in. What was that experience like for you and have you been sort of inspired to do bigger projects stepping behind the camera and editing and doing things like that?
AS: Yeah. Directing is kind of what I want to do with my life. I’m not set on being an actress for the rest of my life. I see it as a really incredible way to do something that I love and build my platform and learn a lot, but I want to pick my own projects. With “Let My Baby Stay,” it’s something that happened kind of naturally. I’ve been working in Atlanta, so I haven’t had much time to do anything besides work on this movie, but I received a request from the studio to cover this song because the song features in the movie kind of heavily. So I thought sure because I love music and I’ve been playing violin since I was in the third grade and it seemed like a really fun opportunity to be able to make a single with a really well-respected company. It was Interscope who supported me throughout the whole project.
JET: Oh wow. That’s incredible.
AS: Yeah, so I recorded the song with a friend of a friend. I made sure I could work with a producer that was kind of like a kid who I really liked. His name is Leven Kali, and he’s just so incredibly talented. I didn’t want to work with like a more pop producer. I wanted to make something kind of funky.
JET: It’s really cool to look at too.
AS: Thanks. Yeah, we made it one night. Then it was done, and then they asked me if I wanted to make the music video. I said if I can direct it and edit myself, sure. So I did it over one weekend in Atlanta when I wasn’t working.
JET: Fantastic. Activism has really been a part of your platform You really focused on speaking out for people who don’t conform to traditional gender binaries and for Black people and women. Why is activism so important for you?
AS: I don’t really necessarily think of activism as something that I choose to believe is important or is one particular act or way of thought that I choose to believe in. I think it’s really just the lens through which you look at life. To me I see a lot of people hurting or wanting to see themselves or feeling alone in certain experiences. I see that I have the power to experience those things with a little more youth and grace, just by being myself and so that’s what I do.
JET: Wonderful. That’s a great perspective and way to look at things. Well following Everything, Everything your next two projects, Where Hands Touch and The Darkest Minds are also helmed by women. Are you going out of your way to find projects with female directors or is it just something that sort of happened for you at this point in your career?
AS: It’s something that just sort of happened and I’m extremely grateful for it.
JET: It’s really cool.
AS: To work with women, yes.
JET: Your haircut is also gorgeous, and I’m loving it. I wanted to know, are you using any specific products for the summer? Anything that you’re loving, using for your skin and your hair?
AS: I don’t really have too many products. I mostly like shop at CVS, like a pharmacy.
AS: When it comes to like skincare and stuff like that. My routine is pretty basic but I do really like the Burt’s Bees lipsticks, like baby lips and stuff like that.
JET: What is your biggest hope for millennials as we move forward and try to resist what’s happening and really sort of try and make projects that really mean things to our generation?
AS: I think I hope that we continue to break down barriers and challenge systems that we don’t see fit and creating more representation, more connection to each other. Breaking down any preconceived notions about what other people might be like. I hope we’re able to do that and I hope that we don’t become alienated by our smartphones honestly. It’s something that scares me a little bit. I hope that we’re able to maintain our sense of reality and keep our perception of ourselves and the world sturdy amidst all the virtual, kind of the virtual chaos that exists in the world now.
JET: For sure. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today Amandla. Congratulations on Everything, Everything.
Everything, Everything is now playing in theaters.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain