Amandla Stenberg captured my heart as District 11’s brave tribute Rue in The Hunger Games. It was a remarkable performance that showed her strength, vulnerability, and major action-movie skills. I started paying attention whenever she popped up in magazines or on websites (which happened a lot—you couldn’t really escape The Hunger Games last year!) and became so impressed with her, not just as an actor, but as a person. First there was the way she reacted to the flurry of tweets by racist trolls who were upset that Rue was being played by a black girl (never mind that the character was described as having dark skin and hair in the book): She rose above the stupidity and stayed resolutely positive, saying in a statement to the press, “As a fan of the books, I feel fortunate to be part of the Hunger Games family…. I am proud of the film and my performance. I want to thank all of my fans…for their support and loyalty.” Then she and her mom were interviewed by Essence magazine, and she said, “My mom reminds me that all things are possible,” and you could tell how much they love each other, and my heart melted. And then I started reading Amandla’s blog, where I learned about her extensive charity work and her devotion to helping kids who are hungry and living in poverty around the world.
I was beyond excited to get a chance to chat with Amandla last month. I found her not just delightful but inspiring, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
JAMIA: I saw on your blog that you’re involved with Share Our Strength, which is working to end child hunger in America. Can you tell us a little bit about that organization, and how we can join you in supporting that cause?
AMANDLA STENBERG: Share Our Strength is an incredible organization that works with school districts to provide meals for kids. It can be too easy to forget that there are hungry kids here in America—it’s not something that’s focused on very often. The best way to show support is to go to the No Kid Hungry website and make a pledge to help out, either by sending money or by volunteering somewhere in your area. Your help will be appreciated!
Another organization I work with is the Ubuntu Education Fund, which is located in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and they cater to the needs of all the kids there. They provide food, medical supplies, and medical treatment. They offer classes like math and yoga and really try to nurture the kids.
They reached out to me last summer and asked me to attend their gala and get to know their organization. So I flew to New York and spent a couple of days with a couple of the young women who had graduated from the program. They were so light and bubbly, and we had a great time. A few days later, at the gala, one of these two women gave a speech. She spoke about her life and the things she had been through, then she recited a poem that she had written. The last line was “Because the father of my child is my father too.” I must have looked emotional, because after the speech this young woman and her mentor came up to me and asked if I was OK. These women had been through so much, but were some of the most kind, lovely, brave, and effervescent women I’d ever met. From that moment on I have been so passionate about their cause.
I just held a raffle for the fund—the prize was a Hunger Games screening—and I’m supposed to be flying down to help with the center in Port Elizabeth soon. You can help them by going to their website and donating. Donations are the number one thing they appreciate.
Oh, what a lovely story, about Ubuntu. I hope I’ll be able to get involved too. I love learning stuff from you. Do you ever feel like people assume things about you because of your age? Do you think you’re treated differently in show business because you’re younger?
It definitely happens. I’m kind of in an awkward stage right now, just because there aren’t many roles for girls my age or girls of my ethnicity. Also, I look like I’m 12 [laughs] so I think I can be kind of babied or treated like I’m younger because of that. I think it is something that I do have to overcome. I get cast as people younger than my age, too.
Have you ever wanted to audition for a role that your parents wouldn’t let you try out for?
Yes! [Laughs] I think my parents can be a little protective when it comes to subject matter. There are roles that look very indie and cool and I think, Maybe this could go to Cannes! It would be so cool! And then my parents are like, “We don’t know if that’s a good idea.” But I do really appreciate their judgment, because I wouldn’t want to be in any inappropriate films.
What has been your favorite role to play so far?
I don’t know if I can pick a favorite, because my experience has been so varied. But what I loved about The Hunger Games is that it had a fantastic cast. It was basically like summer camp—we were all in the woods together for three months. There were a lot of pranks pulled and sleepovers and that kind of thing. It is kind of a rare experience when all of the members of a cast like each other. There were no conflicts or anything!
My role in Colombiana  was an honor to play. [Amandla played a little girl who witnesses the murder of her parents and grows up to be a hit woman played by Zoe Saldana.] I was excited about it because you don’t see that many powerful women in movies as lead characters. But to be honest I was a little nervous about it too, because [Saldana’s role] was also highly sexualized and all that. But my character was exciting to play because it was a very positive character. She’s strong and independent. She didn’t need anybody.