In an exclusive interview with ELLE, The Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg talks about her ambitions, going behind the camera, her now-famous silver braids for prom, moving to college and being an unintentional activist.
You’re in a new NBC sitcom, Mr. Robinson. Tell me about your character, Halle. What drew you to her?
Well…the history behind the character is kind of complicated because I’ve actually been attached to the show for two years now. We shot a pilot a couple of years ago. It was kind of a different show. [Before], Halle had a passion for singing and could not sing at all…so when we reworked the character she became more shy, but could actually sing—[she was] just kind of scared to share her voice. And I thought that was a really sweet storyline as well and she ended up working with Mr. Robinson to learn how to express herself and get rid of her stage fright.
It’s just cool to see characters that have personality. It’s so easy in this industry to only find roles for Black girls, where as you know, you don’t have any kind of story and they’re kind of typical, don’t say much, play the daughter of a character, [are] in one scene, play the stereotype. It is really difficult to find roles that are dynamic and interesting.
Do you have any desire to go behind the camera?
Yes. That’s what I want to do eventually. And I’ve already done it a bit.
In what capacity–writing, directing?
Yeah, so I’ve directed a few shorts and I’m in the process of applying to film school right now. I really want to go to NYU Tisch. It’s so important to create roles and characters and projects that feature Black people in a way that’s not specifically targeted towards the niche market, which is, like, a Black movie is created and it’s produced and pitched so that only Black people will watch it. And I feel like, 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.
Well, that was going to be my next question, about college. How will you balance acting and school?
I still haven’t worked that out yet. I know that I definitely want to take a gap year and have that time to explore and find myself. But I haven’t decided if I’m going to take a break or if I’m going to try to continue to do this simultaneously.
You’re obviously quite outspoken. Often actresses are encouraged not to be political, and you seem to take the opposite tack. And I’m here for it. Can you tell me more about why you made those decisions?
Me talking about political issues on a social platform was kind of an accident. It’s something that’s a part of my everyday—it’s super central to who I am as a person.
Why is it so central?
Because I care about the world and I can’t stand to see people mistreated and discriminated against and I have a lot of problems with the system that we live in. And I hope that I can somehow, in some way, make it a little better, so the quality of life for people improves.
That’s why I’m passionate about it. I mean, I’ve always cared about other people and that’s just how my mom raised me. I go to this very progressive school and conversations take place about sex, sexuality, and the intersectional points of those things.
Read the full interview here.