Actress Amandla Stenberg On Using Social Media As A Tool For Her Activism

amandla-stenberg

By now you are probably already familiar with actress Amandla Stenberg for her role as the ill-fated Rue in ‘The Hunger Games’. Many social media users are also a fan of the activism and creative work she has been sharing online, including her video ‘Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows’ which was originally made as a college project, but ended up going viral.

Her bold take down of the way certain pop culture figures appropriate black culture and black identity for their own adornment, but fail to advocate for the real struggles and issues that the black population are facing in America, was a blistering reminder of the ignorance that still exists in many areas.

In an interview with W Magazine, Amandla was called a “revolutionary” for the way she is now using her fame and social media platforms to share even more of the important messages around identity and culture that need to be discussed further. She shares with W’s Vanessa Lawrence how, aside from acting, she has always been interested in directing, and ever since the aforementioned video went viral, she started released more of her short films to her followers on social media that were made as part of school assignments.

“I came to the realization that I wanted to share it directly with my followers because they’re the people I’m making stuff for and I wanted people to be able to connect to the story line and the characters. And I feel like the most authentic and genuine way to do that is by sharing it directly,” she explained.

Her short film ‘Blue Girls Burn’ was something she made when applying for NYU but has gotten a lot of attention from her social media followers.

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“I wrote this story about this foster kid who experiences moving out of her childhood home, which I was also experiencing, she experiences the loss of her childhood home, probably at a much earlier age than I did. And she navigates what it’s like to be living in a house with someone that’s not your family. And she learns, basically, through this mysterious girl who climbs through her window, that she has to let go of the past and she kind of has to let go of this nostalgia that she’s holding onto in order to move forward,” she describes about the video, which you can watch below.

Amandla says that activism wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision for her, instead that it was something ingrained in her long before she posted ‘Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows’.

“I was raised as an activist in the sense that my mom is a black woman who refuses to be victimized and does her thing and believes in her own power and her own strength, I think that’s been a model for me in terms of how I perceive my own identity. I never really talked about issues and prejudice publicly until that video came out and it went viral. And that’s because I kind of came to a crossroads where I realized I had a choice to either continue speaking out about that or to remain silent,” she said.

It was after her video went viral that she realized she could utilize her online presence to elevate her message even more.

“I just didn’t realize I had all of this power from the platform I had. I didn’t realize that I could really utilize it to speak out about things until the video. And so then I began using it more,” she said.

“It was also a learning experience for me that wow, just by speaking out I can be revolutionary? I’m not even facing any danger or violence or being targeted in a way that could actually physically harm me. I can just use the Internet to spread my ideas and that’s really powerful,” she added, specifically speaking about how she was being labelled a “revolutionary”.

Part of her increased social media presence meant people starting looking to her as a role model, something which she takes seriously as a young woman knowing that many other young people are looking to her as a voice for issues they care about.

“I do feel that pressure and I’m learning how to deal with it still. But I realize that people can be role models in all kinds of ways and often the way that they are a role model is just by being true to themselves,” she said.

At a recent Black Girls Rock event which is all about recognizing black women as role models, Amandla said she saw Rihanna receive an award and had a chance to speak to backstage about what it means to be a role model. She told Ri-Ri that without knowing it, she is a role model for many young girls who are demonized for enjoying their sexuality and who don’t allow the perceptions of men to get in the way of what they want to achieve.

“I told her that she was a role model in that way and that she’s been a role model to me oftentimes when I’ve been navigating high school, letting boys dictate what I wear or how I present myself or what I decide to do and being afraid that they will judge me,” she recalled.

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It made her realize how she too can utilize her celebrity status in a way to empower others to embrace who they are and not feel pressure to conform to society’s expectations.

“The best way for me to be a role model is to be as true to myself as possible. And that doesn’t mean I have to achieve some kind of image or be this icon or mold myself into a role model. It just means I have to keep doing my thing. Oftentimes your authenticity is your activism and being as true to yourself as possible is the first step toward revolution,” she said.

One of the biggest lessons she has learned since becoming a very vocal social media voice is to pick her battles. While she would love to have conversations and the minds of people who have such narrow views, she now feels it is better to stay positive and stay away from debates.

“I just subconsciously stopped doing that and doing things that were more active as opposed to critical. And so making more art and posting more of my own writing and calling out systems, not calling out specific people because the systems are the problem, not the people themselves and utilizing opportunities like Black Girls Rock, Super Soul Sessions to call out those systems and talk about things I care about,” she said.

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Aside from her forthcoming role in the film ‘The Hate U Give’ based on the book of the same name where she plays the lead role of Starr, Amandla is also featured in a new Stella McCartney fragrance campaign for Pop. Amandla says the decision to get involved wasn’t just about her existing love for fashion and beauty, but the deeper significance it held.

” I was always very wary of beauty. I was never that into it just because I know that it can perpetuate these really negative ideas and half the time I’m preaching about how beauty standards make black girls feel ashamed of their natural features. So I was wary because I don’t normally delve into that realm,” she said.

“Another part of my decision [was], “Man, when I was little, I wish that I had seen a black girl on a billboard.” So I’m glad it can be me. Just by putting myself out there and providing the representation and building the self-confidence of other young girls is cool and I’m glad I can do that,” she continued.

Earlier this year, Amandla teamed up with Teen Vogue and some of her fierce black female friends to talk about why being black is beautiful and the power of role models and representation in the media. You can see the video below:


 

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