If I had to name an actor who left a great first impression, one of the first names that would come to mind is Amandla Stenberg. The 18-year-old made all of us weep as the martyr Rue in the Hunger Games. Stenberg's Instagram is never not worth a double tap. They have been outspoken against cultural appropriation, daring to call out everyone’s favorite Jenner on social media. And when we saw Stenberg in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, it immediately felt like the project would have felt somehow incomplete without them. For someone who has yet to reach the height of their career, Stenberg is already an all-time favorite. They just edited and directed the music video for the single, “Let My Baby Stay.” And later this week, you’ll get to see Stenberg play a Black girl in love for the film adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s young adult novel Everything, Everything.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Stenberg over the phone about their role as Maddy Whittier, a teenager who has spent most of her life confined to her home due to a rare condition known as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). With her mother and a nurse as the only people with whom she interacts with on a daily basis, Maddy is naturally shook when she starts falling for the boy next door. Everything, Everything is beautifully shot and full of the story of subtle fantasy elements — like model astronauts that come to life — that Stenberg loves.
“That’s kind of the point of film; is to play around and create things that are surreal and magical,” Stenberg told me. And the film certainly achieves that. However, Everything, Everything also feels very true to the experience of many millennials today, making Stenberg a perfect fit for the role. It’s a love story with modern twists and includes a lot of social media references, a dope soundtrack, and a whole bunch of Black girl magic.
The latter quality is the reason Stenberg took the role. Always modeling #wokebae for young people, Stenberg told me, “The reason I did this role is because we don’t get to see Black girls be the main love interest in films that are not about race.” She’s right. Look how long it took ABC to cast a Black Bachelorette. Stenberg continued, “I was really excited to see something that I knew would be widely distributed and widely marketed to kids that had diversity in it. I feel like I would have been so stoked as a younger teenager or preteen to see something with a Black girl where she’s just being herself, falling in love, being a person, and existing.”
Shifting culture in this way — to uplift diverse stories and characters — is exactly the kind of legacy that Stenberg wants to leave. “I feel like it’s my mission to be able to infiltrate these white institutions and white media and show face and create that representation. I think it can do a lot.”
Preparing for this specific role wasn’t too difficult for Stenberg, who revealed that they could relate to Maddy based on more than just race and age. “I actually fell in love for the first time right before we started shooting. So that was fresh in my head. Those feelings were so new to me when we were filming,” the actor said. Stenberg shared this tidbit with me in the same nonchalant tone they used to describe a normal day at home: watching Netflix, hanging out, and spending time with the person I’m assuming they’re in love with — their boyfriend. It's a sweet parallel that Stenberg shares with Maddy, and a reminder that Black girls and non-binary folks alike are out here living, subjects of our own everyday love stories.
Oh, and as for their mystery man, Stenberg was tight-lipped on his identity. “He’s my boyfriend,” they coyly stated between soft giggles when I asked who he was. Who says millennials are constantly oversharing?