Cover story

Trailblazer

With

Amandla Stenberg

Ever since her breakout role in The Hunger Games, AMANDLA STENBERG’s career has gone from strength to strength. Here, the actor talks to MICHA FRAZER-CARROLL about her involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement, how the pandemic has made her re-evaluate her life and why she’s keenly exploring other creative avenues

Photography Miranda BarnesStyling Karla Welch
Cover Stories
This image: shirt, and shoes, both Bottega Veneta; bralette, Christopher John Rogers. Opening image: earrings, Khiry

Speaking to Amandla Stenberg feels strikingly like hanging out with a close friend, as well as interviewing a compelling voice from Hollywood’s twentysomething cohort. As we connect over Zoom, the conversational ground quickly spans from grumbling about media depictions of Gen Z to lamenting the elitist hierarchies that have emerged at queer Zoom parties. She also laughs a lot.

The laughter subsides and Stenberg reflects on the turbulent times that 2020 brought. She’s been Airbnb-ing and short-term renting for two years now – between New York, LA, Paris and Copenhagen – and has felt constantly unsettled since the pandemic hit. “I think sometimes I forget the lens through which I’m looking at things,” she says. “I can kind of get stressed out, wondering why I have so much anxiety, or why I’m in a constant state of paranoia and fear – and then I remember the circumstances.”

There are things to be grateful for, too, of course – she stresses that she doesn’t want to sound all “the pandemmy’s been so hard”, particularly since the actor, whose father is Danish, spent three months of the past year in the rolling hills of rural Denmark. “The thing I’m grateful for is definitely the opportunity to move more slowly – like actually thinking about my habits, the way I move through each day and what my priorities are.”

Shirt, Tove; briefs, A.L.C.; ballet flats, Khaite; earrings, Khiry
Dress, Sindiso Khumalo; turtleneck, Helmut Lang; earrings, Bottega Veneta
Shirt dress, Wales Bonner; ballet flats, Khaite

The pandemic has given Stenberg the ability to take a break from the business of storytelling and to ponder on other creative mediums. “I realized how many limitations I’ve been placing on myself, like what I’m capable of exploring artistically,” she says. Thinking about her career choice has always been complicated by the fact that she grew up around an LA community of actors (her mother is a former entertainment journalist) and she landed her first role aged five (in a doll commercial). “I’ve been exploring those feelings of, like, ‘Is this actually what I want? Was this chosen for me? Is there such a thing as free will?’”

She says there were times where it felt like an external force was propelling her forwards. Then, when acting gigs were stripped away for the first part of 2020, Stenberg’s other creative pursuits flourished, from learning to install her own lilac box braids to returning to her childhood instrument, the violin. “I started thinking about all the things I’m passionate about and the mental restrictions I place on myself,” she says. “I feel like a lot of those restrictions are to do with imposter syndrome.”

Music is Stenberg’s “favorite thing in the world” – not just the violin, but singing and producing – and, despite having around 30 demos under her belt, she feels shy about sharing her music with others. She’s also only ever worked with male producers and recalls creative moments where she’s wanted to try something different, or even a bit embarrassing, but has then felt the male gaze bearing down on her: “It permeates without you even realizing.”

Jacket, Maximilian Davis
Top, and pants, both Miguelina; shoes, Gucci
Top, and skirt, both Tove; necklace, Alighieri