Interview with Amandla Stenberg
We speak to the star of new film "The Darkest Minds" about self-esteem and using you voice for positive change.
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Imagine a world were 98% of young people have been wiped out.
It’s difficult to imagine; but The Darkest Minds (the new film from the producers of Stranger Things and Arrival) is set in that world. Those who have survived the virus have done so by developing superhuman powers… only, the Government has declared them a threat and have placed all young people in internment camps.
Well, not all of them. Obviously, there are those who escape looking for a better life. But, even so, everything might not be how it seems.
Looking between the lines, The Darkest Minds is one big metaphor. In the real world, young people are ignored and underestimated. Those who defy the odds can often be demonised for success… and those who don’t fit the mould are often on the run to find acceptance.
The film centres around Ruby Daly (played by Amandla Stenberg) – her journey starts when she discovers her powers whilst, accidentally, erasing herself from her parents’ memories. We interviewed her about the film and her activism.
WR: How did you get involved in ‘The Darkest Minds’?
AS: The role was actually offered to me. I think there was interest in me partly because I have spoken out on issues like cultural appropriation and Black Lives Matter. Since the character is a leader, or at least reaches the point of being a leader during the course of the movie, I think they felt I had some of Ruby’s qualities. Also, I went to school with [the film’s producer] Shawn Levy’s daughter and he knew my work.
WR: On which note, how much did you feel like you could relate to Ruby?
AS: Ruby is dealing with a lot of issues. She has insecurity and doubt and self-hatred due to things that have happened in the past. She has powers that she doesn’t understand – the ability to manipulate people’s memories, to see inside their heads and manipulate their thoughts and feelings. She begins the story scared, terrified and beaten down, mainly because she’s grown up in an abusive environment in the camp. Then she has a great, expansive journey and, along the way, together with her new friends, she starts to understand her power. By the end of the film, she wields it well.
I definitely relate to her. And because there’s room for interpretation in the book and in the script, I was able to put a lot of myself into the role in terms of my own journey – how I have found my own power and strength, when I might have been doubting myself. To understand Ruby, I also relied on some of my own personal feelings about our government here in America and how it feels to exist under the government.
WR: There’s quite a lot of action in the film – after all, you’re on the run for some of it! Did you do any training for the film?
AS: I did zero training! I did have to learn how to do little stunts, in terms of knowing how to get hit convincingly. I did a lot of running and some harness work. But it was all pretty easy for me.
WR: There are so many themes in the film that are essentially metaphors for what the real world is like for young people. Which themes do you think will resonate the most?
AS: It’s about becoming comfortable with your power and your strength, and then feeling comfortable using your voice. And it’s also about friendship – the power of coming together with others to fight against something that you don’t believe in. It is about accepting yourself too. Ruby is a little bit of an awkward character until she starts to find her strength. She is uncomfortable with herself; she doesn’t like herself very much and doesn’t know where she fits in the world. It’s not until later in the storyline that she begins to understand more about herself.
WR: As the film develops the main characters – yours included – gain self-esteem and that enables them to go on and fight that little bit harder. How confident and secure do you feel?
AS: Right now I do feel confident. Tomorrow, maybe not … who knows? It varies, it fluctuates, but I think that’s just a part of being human.
WR: You’re growing into this role as a role model – as you realise this more and more, what did that following start from and what messages do you want to spread?
AS: I think it began with a conversation around race. As someone who had a platform, and was a black kid, that was where I initially found that my voice was most needed. Some of the first things I talked about were cultural appropriation and representation and intersectionality, which means the intersection of feminism and race. It’s about how feminism always needs to be inclusive of race in order for it to mean anything.
WR: What’s next for you?
AS: I don’t know. It’s up in the air right now. I was supposed to go to NYU (New York University) to study film but then I started working so I deferred my place and I had to give it up. Eventually, I would like to go to college if it feels right. Right now, I really enjoy working and learning about the process of filmmaking through being on set. I feel like I’m being an apprentice to all the directors that I’ve worked with.
WR: Bigger picture… What are your dreams and goals?
AS: I will always advocate for black women – that is something I will do forever. It’s my number one priority. What I want to speak about shifts depending on what is happening in the world. The most valuable thing right now that I think I can do is to help create more representation with the projects that I’m working on. I hope to be a positive role model. My main concern is to help young people, especially young black girls, to feel less alone and to feel validated. I want to direct, work on my music, have fun and help people feel seen and heard.
WR: Last – but not least – what do you hope people will take away from watching ‘The Darkest Minds?
AS: A fun time! An adventure! I think people can look forward to being entertained. That’s very important right now, during this particular time in the world – that we just have fun watching movies.
The Darkest Minds is in theatres in the US now and will be in cinemas in the UK from 10th August 2018