The Wild Life: Amandla Stenberg on New Movie 'Everything, Everything' and What it Means to Be Woke

Benjo Arwas, (Hair) Larry Sims, (Makeup) Kali Kennedy, (Manicure) Tracy Clemens, (Prop Stylist) Lauren Shields

The woke as ever Amandla Stenberg talks activism, art and identity, and how they align in her movie everything, everything.

Christina Coleman May, 19, 2017

It’s easy to forget that Amandla Stenberg is just 18 years old when she breaks down exactly what it means to be woke: “It’s questioning the structures that are disenfranchising Black people—people of color as a whole—gay people, mentally ill people.” Or when she expertly explains Hollywood’s diversity problem: “I think it’s very important to have representations of diversity and interracial relationships and Black women without necessarily their race being the point.” The budding actress, who’s best known for playing Rue in The Hunger Games, merges her philosophy with her work when she stars in the new flick Everything, Everything, in theaters May 19.

Based on the young adult novel, the film is a coming-of-age-tale that follows a sick teenager whose desire to fall in love and explore the world changes the course of her life. Everything, Everything was written by a Black woman (Nicola Yoon), directed by a Black woman (Stella Meghie) and stars a teen who has made it a mission to be vocal about racial constructs, gender and systemic oppression.

“The thing is, as a Black woman navigating the world, I don’t really think that the point of my life is my race. I think it’s a factor,” she says. “So it’s great to see stories that accurately represent that and represent race as the lens through which life happens.”

It’s not surprising that that same thought process goes into Stenberg’s personal style. “I definitely see fashion as a reflection of identity,” says the L.A. native, whose freshly cropped hair makes her look like a vision. “I love playing around with colors and patterns. I love wearing clothes with images; it’s cool that I can wear art on my clothing. I’m really drawn to colors—color rules my world.”

This feature originally appeared in the May 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.

1 of 5 Benjo Arwas, (Hair) Larry Sims, (Makeup) Kali Kennedy, (Manicure) Tracy Clemens, (Prop Stylist) Lauren Shields

Rosie Assoulin "One Shoulder Puff Sleeve" dress. Jimmy Choo "Dillan" sandals.

2 of 5 Benjo Arwas, (Hair) Larry Sims, (Makeup) Kali Kennedy, (Manicure) Tracy Clemens, (Prop Stylist) Lauren Shields

Tome "Harlequin Print" shirt, mermaid skirt and belt. Michael Kors Collection "Genevieve" runway sandals.

3 of 5 Benjo Arwas, (Hair) Larry Sims, (Makeup) Kali Kennedy, (Manicure) Tracy Clemens, (Prop Stylist) Lauren Shields

Amandla Stenberg is currently filming The Hate U Give,  a film based on Angela Thomas’ best-selling novel of the same name. The film explores issues of race and injustice after the main character witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend. Issa Rae and Anthony Mackie are also attached. 

4 of 5 Benjo Arwas, (Hair) Larry Sims, (Makeup) Kali Kennedy, (Manicure) Tracy Clemens, (Prop Stylist) Lauren Shields

Altuzarra "Corona" dress. Marc Jacobs belt. Michael Kors Collection "Genevieve" runway sandals. Hosiery, stylist's own.

5 of 5 Benjo Arwas, (Hair) Larry Sims, (Makeup) Kali Kennedy, (Manicure) Tracy Clemens, (Prop Stylist) Lauren Shields

Emilio Pucci jumpsuit. Michael Kors Collection belt.