Plenty of young movie stars avoid controversy or speaking out on important issues. However, one popular star is in an entirely different category.
Story by Lydia Wagner / @wydialagner
Illustration by Vanessa Astronoto
Black. Queer. Non-binary. Bold. Outspoken. Amandla Stenberg is a mega-celebrity who influences style by giving a voice to a variety of marginalized communities.
Along with promoting a new movie, The Hate U Give and proving an affinity for social justice and activism, the 20-year-old actress still finds time to set style trends that transcend simple fashion. The young supernova challenges boundaries of gender and ethnicity and focuses on the self-expression beyond. An unwavering and progressive voice paired with 2 million Instagram followers allows Stenberg to turn an outfit into nationwide social discourse.
Stenberg is a catalyst in the process of encouraging awareness. In an iconic photo from January, they perch high on a pole above the crowd at the Los Angeles Women’s march, mouth open in a cry of protest. Wearing bright pink and sporting a shaved head, the young actress shows solidarity for their fellow feminists.
Intersectional feminism specifically is a topic close to the star’s heart. Preaching inclusivity, Stenberg questions how gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation have an oppressive effect on femmes. The young star identifies as non-binary and feels their gender is fluid. They use they/them pronouns and acknowledges that most of the popular media won’t understand their wishes. Stenberg experiments with masculine and feminine clothing alike to emphasize that clothes have no gender.
As a young Black artist, Stenberg sees the importance of pride in Blackness. They often sport traditionally Black hairstyles to disprove the notion that only European beauty standards are beautiful. In high school, the star made a video project called “Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows” about the appropriation of Black hairstyles and culture that went viral across the internet. They say pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Kendall Jenner see copying Black culture “as a way of being edgy and gaining attention.” They proudly touts their natural afro, box braids, cornrows, bantu knots and more as an affirmation of their Black culture.
Stenberg came out as gay this year, having previously identified as bisexual in their teen years. They have always been an ally to the LGBTQ community, frequently emphasizing trans rights and acceptance of everyone on the spectrum of gender and sexuality. In their opinion, sexuality and gender are both socialized concepts that should not define us or tie us to one mode of expression. Identity is ever-changing and that should be allowed.
The young icon did a vibrant rainbow photoshoot with Wonderland Magazine in celebration of Pride Month this year and was met with warm support and happiness from their fans. They wore a variety of color-blocked pieces and fluorescent hair. Stenberg’s courage in coming out is inspiring to a generation of teens and 20-somethings navigating their way through adolescence in a divisive and often discouraging political climate.
Stenberg is perfecting the art of outspoken progressivism through fashion, film and social media alike. The star most recently played the lead role in the movie The Hate U Give, the story of a young black girl who is horrified when they witnesses their close friend shot by a white police officer, but soon becomes an emblem of hope and strength in a discouraged Black community. What role better describes Stenberg in real life? Activism is technically a side job for the 20-year-old, but they prioritize social justice in a way that makes real waves for upcoming generations.