Named by most major publications today as one of the most important voices for our generation, Amandla Stenberg has created a platform for herself where she can not only talk about pertinent major issues (she was invited by Oprah Winfrey to give a talk, ‘My Authenticity Is My Activism’ in 2016,), but to be a part of films that are equally as important.
In ‘The Darkest Minds’, Stenberg stars as Ruby, a teenager living in a dystopian world where a disease has wiped out 90% of the youth population, and the remaining live with special abilities which elder generations fear, and try to contain within camps. A story of youth empowerment and inner strength, the film provides a look into a dystopian future, while touching on themes that are just as relevant in today’s world than ever before.
We spoke with Amandla while she was in Australia about the upcoming release of ‘The Darkest Minds’, the empowerment she hopes it provides for fellow young people, as well as about her own upcoming new music…
COUP DE MAIN: The film really speaks to the power of young people - which in today’s society I feel like we are seeing more than ever before, with young people becoming more empowered to speak out about issues they feel strongly about, both politically and in other facets too. What do you hope for fellow young people take away from watching the film?
AMANDLA STENBERG: I think you just said it, I hope they feel empowered by the narrative. I hope it feels humanising and empowering for them to see these kids struggle with their responsibility, but then throughout the duration of the film and through trial and error and through challenge, find their strength and their voice, and realise they don’t need to be afraid of it. I think that’s really powerful.
CDM: You’ve spoken about how Ruby has an inner strength that develops through the film - which is a really relatable theme for young women growing up today. What would you say to people trying to find their inner strength, and to find empowerment?
AMANDLA: I would probably say that inner strength is not contingent upon anyone else’s perception of you, but rather something that comes from within. It’s something that you cultivate independently of trying to satisfy other people’s needs, or at least satisfy other people’s expectations of what you should be. I think it’s challenging - of course it’s not easy, it requires patience with yourself, to not have these really intimidating expectations for yourself, but to be understanding with yourself that you’re human, and all you can do is be your most authentic self, and hopefully by being your most authentic self you radiate a positivity that allows people to do the same.
CDM: Ruby’s character is seen as a really valuable asset in the film - to the point that the male characters in the film want to control her, and almost have ownership over her (Clancy wants to use her powers for evil, and even Liam to an extent, has his own opinion of what Ruby should do), and it’s really powerful to see Ruby be so headstrong in making her own decision about how she should use her powers. Do you think Ruby can be an important role-model for young women, in showing that they can be strong-minded and empowered, without someone guiding them/showing them a path to follow?
AMANDLA: Absolutely, I hope so. I definitely think that we, as women, have learned this tendency to think that we need to rely upon others in order to complete something, or to get something done, when actually we’re capable of taking those tools in our own hands and doing it ourselves. I hope Ruby demonstrates that and people feel empowered by that.
CDM: It’s interesting how a lot of dystopian films are set in a distant future, but still feel so close to home in their themes - do you think that sometimes it’s easier to reflect on the state of our current society through pop-culture like film/TV?
AMANDLA: Yeah, sometimes it seems easier for us to relate to dystopian content and to create a distance between ourselves and our potential future <laughs> because it’s less overwhelming and scary than actually reflecting some of our own realities. That’s definitely a reason why I love dystopian stories in general - they’re warnings, but they don’t even have to be very far off from our society in order to be allegorical and still relevant.
CDM: It’s so cool that you were involved on a level that you guys would re-write scenes and change things around on the day of filming. Was it cool to be involved in the film on that level of detail?
AMANDLA: Yeah, it was awesome. We were able to make the characters feel as natural as we could. Jennifer [Yuh Nelson], who is just such an incredible woman, was always willing to be flexible and create space for us to feel as comfortable as possible so we could do our best work.
CDM: Ruby’s character has the ability to get inside people’s minds, something which she’s really afraid of initially, as it’s something so intrusive. Do you think that knowing something about everyone (i.e. seeing inside their mind) can be a dangerous thing? Do you think sometimes it’s better to live in an ignorant state?
AMANDLA: I personally would never want the ability to be inside other people’s minds, <laughs> I would just rather veer away from that sort of responsibility, but I think there can be something dangerous about it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, or sometimes you don’t even need to go that deep into people’s minds in order to understand their intentions.
CDM: You’re listed in the credits for Blood Orange’s new album, which is super exciting. Did you contribute violin again to his music like you did last time?
AMANDLA: I actually didn’t contribute any violin, I contributed some vocal parts, and I wrote a couple of melodies.
CDM: You’ve been working more on your own music too, right? What can you tell us about it?
AMANDLA: I’ve been having fun in finding my musical voice, and gaining more confidence in it, and deciding exactly what I want to make and what I want to share. It’s just been a really fun experience, it’s been so fulfilling, I’m in kind of a honeymoon phase with music right now where I’m just having a blast creating, without there being any sort of pressure on what I do with it. I do want to start sharing it with people, before I sit on a track for too long and change my mind. <laughs> So I’ll probably start releasing stuff soon.
CDM: How do you balance the different art-forms that you’ve been pursuing?
AMANDLA: Acting is my main career path, I guess. Music doesn’t really have any of that weight attached to it yet, so it’s something that is just a creative outlet for me that makes me feel really happy.
‘The Darkest Minds’ is in cinemas now - watch the trailer below…