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IndieWire Honors Video: Amandla Stenberg Only Used to Be Offered Roles Like ‘Daughter of Drug Dealer’ and ‘Hood Girl No. 2’ — That’s Changed

"The Hate U Give" was a turning point for the gifted young actress.

Amandla Stenberg at the IndieWire Honors 2018 at No Name on November 1, 2018 in Los Angeles.

Amandla Stenberg at IndieWire Honors 2018

Michael Buckner for Variety

On November 1, the 2018 IndieWire Honors ceremony celebrated eight filmmakers and actors for their achievement in creative independence. We’re showcasing their work with new interviews conducted right before they accepted their awards at the event.

Amandla Stenberg knew “The Hate U Give” was special from the beginning. “It has been timely for a long time, and I think it will continue to be timely for a while,” she said during an interview at IndieWire Honors last week. “A story about police brutality will probably be relevant for a while.”

Stenberg received a Performance Award at the event, which also toasted the likes of Bill Hader, Ryan Coogler, and Charlize Theron, among others. She leads George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of the novel by Angie Thomas as Starr, a 16-year-old who watches her best friend get killed by a police officer; Stenberg’s breakout performance comes on the heels of similarly well-received roles in projects like “The Hunger Games” and “Everything, Everything.”

“What’s so amazing about Angie’s book was the way in which she was able to capture that pain and anguish that we have within the black community and then turn it into a story that was so compelling and powerful,” Stenberg said of the source material. However strong her ideals, though, the 20-year-old hasn’t always been able to find projects that met her high standards.

“I’ve always entered this industry with the recognition that it’s usually kind of a two-for-them, one-for-you situation and that it’s necessary to play the game and necessary to do projects that are great with fantastic people but don’t necessarily line up with perfect synchronicity in terms of your personal beliefs, your morals, what kind of characters you want to play,” said the “Darkest Minds” star.

Stenberg thinks “The Hate U Give” may have been a turning point for her. “I do feel like now that I was able to be a part of this film where there was this synchronicity, I think it opens up a little more room for me in terms of being able to be very selective around how I decide to portray blackness, how I decide to portray black women,” she said.

THUG-002 – Amandla Stenberg stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE HATE U GIVE. Photo Credit: Erika Doss.

“The Hate U Give”

Photo Credit: ERIKA DOSS

She hasn’t always had that opportunity. Stenberg has been in the film industry for much of her life, and her earlier years were frustrating. “It was so challenging to find roles for black girls that weren’t really trivializing or harmful in some way, that weren’t detrimental to how we perceive blackness or black women,” she said.

“There were stretches of time where I just didn’t work — which was fine, because I was in school, and that was the most important thing anyway, you know, focusing on my grades,” Stenberg added. “But there were moments where I couldn’t find anything besides ‘daughter of drug dealer’ or ‘hood girl no. 2 who has a fresh mouth’ and it’s supposed to be funny, you know? I didn’t really have interest in doing that, because I don’t want to further perpetuate negative stereotypes around black women.”

Change has come slowly, but it has come. “Now, within the past few years, I think it’s really beginning to open up. And I think it’s also because I entered an age range in which it becomes easier to find roles, but I think a huge part of it is also that things are shifting in terms of diversity onscreen,” said Stenberg. “People are getting bored of the same old shit over and over again, and they want to be able to see accurate representations, nuanced representations of black women, of Asian women, of characters who aren’t white and male.”

Watch her full conversation:

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