Know Your Feminist Celebrity: Amandla Stenberg

Amandla Stenberg, named for the Zulu and Xhosa word for “power,” is a 17-year-old actress who is most well-known for her role as Rue in The Hunger Games. Stenberg is also a feminist force to be reckoned with and a kickass activist.

Titled by Ms. Foundation for Women in 2015 as Feminist Celebrity of the Year, Stenberg is very vocal and active as a feminist, especially within the digital sphere. She, for example, curates a political Tumblr blog and she often uses social media as a means to address various social issues like cultural appropriation (e.g., she created and posted a video on Tumblr about cultural appropriation called “Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows,” and when Kylie Jenner posted a photo on Instagram of herself wearing cornrows, Stenberg left a comment on Jenner’s post stating, “when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter”), the “angry Black girl” narrative (e.g., Stenberg once tweeted, “End the ‘angry black girl’ narrative. It’s just another attempt to undermine certain perspectives. I have strong opinions. I am not angry.”), the racial fetishism of Black women and police brutality (Stenberg has also used social media to publicly come out as bisexual).

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Stenberg at the Icebox Derby.

Outside of social media, Stenberg advocates for women’s engagement in STEM (e.g., she co-hosted the Icebox Derby which aims to get girls and women excited about and interested in STEM); she serves as a youth ambassador for No Kid Hungry; and she supports the Ubuntu Education Fund. Stenberg has also, as of late, begun co-writing NIOBE: She is Life, a comic about a young Black warrior woman who is half human and half elf (when asked about her involvement with NIOBE, Stenberg responded, “I was drawn to give voice to Niobe and co-write her story because her journey is my journey. I connect to her mixed racial background and quest to discover her innate powers and strengths, to learn who she truly is. She is on a path to a destiny that will test her faith and her will, something we can all relate to. But there’s never been a character quite like her — one who shatters the traditional ideal of what a hero is. We need more badass girls!”).

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Cover for the first issue of NIOBE: She is Life.

Stenberg is obviously a busy woman and she has already accomplished a lot at only 17. As such, one can only wonder what she’ll do next and whose asses she will kick and what names she will take.

May the odds be ever in your favor Amandla Stenberg.

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Campaigns, Philanthropy and Activism

  • Serves as a youth ambassador for No Kid Hungry, a campaign that strives to end child hunger.
  • Supports the Ubuntu Education Fund, a program that aids children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa through a holistic approach.

2011

  • Stenberg paid tribute to the four girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing during a MLK Memorial Foundation ceremony.

Quotes

Stenberg on the Baltimore riots:

Don’t condemn our anger. Don’t denounce our pain as savage. What’s savage is the cruel inhumanity and brutality of the police. Condemn that.

Stenberg on Black Lives Matter:

When I say ‘Black lives matter,’ I’m not saying White lives don’t. I’m just saying that this is a group of people that has been systematically repressed for generations so it’s necessary to shed light on it to undo those wounds. Some people think that it’s trying to exclude White people, but that’s not the point. The point it to uplift voices that have been silenced.

That time that Stenberg called for the destruction of stereotypes:

There needs to be the destruction of certain stereotypes that young people of color face, because we’re the new wave. We’re shaping the future.

When Stenberg discussed identity and sexuality on Teen Vogue’s Snapchat:

It’s a really really hard thing to be silenced and it’s deeply bruising to fight against your identity and to mold yourself into shapes that you just shouldn’t be in. As someone who identifies as a Black, bisexual woman I’ve been through it, and it hurts, and it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable…but then I realized because of Solange and Ava DuVernay and Willow and all the Black girls watching this right now, that there’s absolutely nothing to change.”

When Stenberg tackled racial fetishism and asked, “Do Black women’s live matter too?”

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What Stenberg has had to say about gender and race:

  • “I’ve met a lot more mixed kids and people like me, so I think the best way to raise a kid is to teach your child that there’s nothing wrong with being multiracial, and even though it is so rare in the media, it is something that is growing. It is much bigger under the surface of what we see every day. Teach your kids that it is a new wave.”
  • “Do what you feel comfortable doing. Existing and thriving as a Black woman is a small revolution in itself.”
  • “What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we love Black culture?”
  • “Guys aren’t allowed to express femininity; they have to always appear masculine and that’s bullshit. I love it when guys can be feminine and express their emotions and creativity; it shows strength.”
  • “It can be really discouraging to see how far we still have to go and how much work still needs to be done before we can create a world where we’re all judged by how we are and not how we look, but I’m strengthened every day because I’m still here, I’m surviving, and I’m using my voice.”
  • “My larger goal is to affect and empower more Black girls, because I know how important it has been to me to see representations of myself out there through role models like Ava DuVernay and Laverne Cox and FKA twigs – artists who are inspiring and creative and carefree.”
  • “All of my inspirations have been ‘angry Black girls.’ To me, it means that I must be doing something right. I must be striking a chord for people to try to invalidate my perspective.”
  • “Racism is still alive and flourishing and even though we don’t see it in the same way we used to, it exists. It’s often subconscious: it’s the way we treat each other and the assumptions we make without thinking.”
  • “End the ‘angry black girl’ narrative. It’s just another attempt to undermine certain perspectives. I have strong opinions. I am not angry.”

Stenberg on gender and race within the context of pop culture:

  • “So unfortunate to see the media pitting women against each other in 2015. Ladies, our love for each other will overcome all trivial nonsense.”
  • “I want to create roles for Black women, specifically, that are really empowering, dynamic, and nuanced and that are leads because, actually, there are really very few.”
  • “I want to see more Black creators. I want a place for Black girls to exist within art and fashion and all components of pop culture. Black kids need to be told that they’re capable of so much.”
  • “…Black culture kind of runs media. People love Black music, Black fashion, Black food. Just look at the intense popularity of someone like Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar. But at the same time, there’s this intense racism in America. I think this exciting wave of Afrocentrism in popular culture can inspire our community to fight — and I don’t mean fight in a way that’s brutal or violent. I mean fight in a way that garners the appreciation we deserve.”

Stenberg on race and gender within the context of activism:

  • “Black female voices need to be uplifted within the mainstream feminist movement, especially at this time. It’s crucial.”
  • “We’re told that we’re angry when we speak out on injustice. Being outspoken about race does not equate the slander of White people.”

Stenberg’s take on diversity in Hollywood:

  • “There’s a gross lack of diversity in Hollywood and not only for Black people. It’s equally frustrating how few roles there are for the LGBT community, for other minorities, for people who aren’t traditionally attractive. As an actor, there’s only so much you can do. But as a filmmaker, you can create roles and stories that make room for different types of characters. That’s what inspires me to create my own content — to give a voice to marginalized characters who are uncommon in Hollywood.”
  • “Jada Pinkett Smith made this amazing comment about not letting them, the Academy, define us… That they aren’t the only important measure of talent. We live in a society that engrains racism and is inherently unfair to minorities, so, of course, an institution like the Oscars isn’t going to represent everyone at this point in time. I think we’ll get there, but Jada’s right: we can’t let that exclusion define us in the meantime.”
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