I have a confession to make: I didn’t prepare for my interview with Amandla Stenberg. Though we had never met, from the outside looking in, I recognized her so deeply that I didn’t think I’d need to. There’s a secret language shared among black girls who are destined to climb mountains and cross rivers in a world that tells us to belong to the valleys that surround us. You learn it very young, and although it has no words, you hear it clearly. You sense it when you walk into rooms with your hair in full bloom, each coil glorious, your sway swift and your stance proud. You feel it like a rhythm you can’t shake if you even dared to quiet the sounds around you.
Our conversation quickly reveals that Amandla knows it all too well: “I think that as a black girl you grow up internalizing all these messages that say you shouldn’t accept your hair or your skin tone or your natural features, or that you shouldn’t have a voice, or that you aren’t smart,” she says. “I feel like the only way to fight that is to just be yourself on the most genuine level and to connect with other black girls who are awakening and realizing that they’ve been trying to conform.”
So here we are, connecting as two nonconforming black girls. Connecting as two trailblazers who recognize the borders that have been built around us as we steadily tear them down, dancing through life while coloring outside every line. Connecting as two lovers of music, art, and the color orange. Connecting as two chicks who are over talking about our hair — although we know it’s badass! Connecting as two descendants of powerful queens who made the journey before us and whom we hold in the highest regard. I may not have prepared, but I sure as hell felt inspired by our honesty with each other and ready to take on the world — sprinkling black girl magic in every crevice of the universe. Listen in…—SOLANGE KNOWLES
ON GOING VIRAL
SOLANGE: I feel like my introduction to you was probably like that of a lot of people — or at least people who might not have seen The Hunger Games — via your video on cultural appropriation, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” which was so brilliant! I know that you made it for a class assignment, but in terms of sharing it with the world was there ever a moment of fear before hitting the “publish” button?
AMANDLA: I really didn’t think it was going to be so controversial. And then to have the label of “revolutionary” pinned on you afterward felt really daunting. I kind of had a moment with myself, like, “OK. Is this what you want to do? Do you actually want to talk about issues? Is it worth it?” There are still moments now where I’m like, “Whoa, this is a lot of pressure.” But it’s worth it because when people come to me and say, “I’m more comfortable in my identity because of you,” or “I feel like you’ve given me a voice,” that’s the most powerful thing ever.
SOLANGE: Does it feel like sometimes you’re just exhausted talking about it?
AMANDLA: Yo — yes! It’s so funny. I have many white friends who come up to me and they’re like, “Amandla, so this weekend I’m going to go out, and I was wondering if it’s OK if I could wear cornrows just on Saturday?” [Laughs] I’m tired of talking about who can have whichever style. Because I’ve said my thing.
SOLANGE: Yeah,you made it clear in your video. It was so articulate and perfectly put!
AMANDLA: But I’m not tired of talking about hair in the sense of it being an empowering thing. I know when I used to chemically straighten mine, I did it because I wasn’t comfortable with my natural hair. I thought it was too poofy, too kinky. So for me, personally, when I started wearing it natural, it felt like I was blossoming because I was letting go of all the dead hair and all the parts of me that had rejected my natural state. But, you know, it’s not like that for all black girls. Some have their hair straight because that’s just how they like it, and it doesn’t mean that they accept themselves any less.
SOLANGE: Absolutely. I want to have the freedom to wear a long weave down to my ass tomorrow if I want to, and then wear it in crocheted braids, and then have it so straight that my edges are laid. [Laughs] So when was the moment that you realized exactly what you were taking on just by existing in this space?
AMANDLA: It was when I was 12 and I got cast in The Hunger Games, and people called me the N-word and said that the death of my character, Rue, would be less sad because I was black. That was the first moment I realized being black was such a crucial part of my identity in terms of the way that I was perceived and how it would affect any line of work that I wanted to pursue. I often find myself in situations where I am the token black person. It can feel like this enormous weight. I have definitely had moments when my hair felt too big or like I needed to make myself…
AMANDLA: Exactly. Smaller and easier to digest. And that’s still something that I struggle with now, you know? But I think, honestly, social media has changed that in a lot of ways because in the past you could look only to movies or TV or music or celebrities in order to feel like you had representation. Now you can go on Instagram and you can see a girl who looks like you who is killing the game and expressing herself. Just being able to see that is so affirming.
ON THE COMIC BOOK
SOLANGE: So what’s the deal with your comic book, Niobe: She Is Life? It’s sitting right here. It looks incredible.
AMANDLA: Thank you! Growing up, I was always super into fantasy and The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones and all of that, but I could never find black characters whom I really liked. And so immediately I identified with Niobe, the lead character. She’s this rad black girl elf. It’s interesting because it is fantasy, but it’s also really kind of self-reflective. She’s finding her faith and finding her identity. And she’s going to keep growing until she becomes this warrior destined to unite the human world and the elf world. I think it’s officially the first comic book to be written by a black girl, starring a black girl [Niobe Ayutami], and illustrated by a black girl [Ashley A. Woods].
ON GIRL POWER
SOLANGE: What things do you do to just shut off your brain and let go of all of the intellect and spirituality and yada, yada, yada? For me, I am on Shopbop or watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or trolling Snapchat videos of me dancing around, which all my friends are so annoyed by…. [Laughs]
AMANDLA: Oh, my God. I take a lot of really dumb Snapchat videos, too! Really bad, like double-chin selfies. Or I am in my bed watching Leonardo DiCaprio in ’90s movies, because I have an obsession with him right now. I also love going to really crappy diners with my friends just to get pancakes and drink sh*tty coffee at, like, midnight. We do that all the time.
SOLANGE: Speaking of friends, you are basically living squad goals. You’re close with Kiernan Shipka, Willow Smith, Tavi Gevinson, Lorde….
AMANDLA:Oh, man. Well, Kiernan has been by my side since the beginning. Willow is amazing. I feel like we were just meant to be friends. We were kind of vibing off each other from afar, and then she hit me up and was like, “Let’s hang out!” She has the most magnetic, radiant energy ever. Whenever we hang out we just laugh and we sing and we dance and we go hiking. And then Tavi — I was the biggest Rookie fan since forever. I checked it daily, hourly. Then Rookie asked me to do an interview, and now Tavi is one of my closest friends. We talk about everything and bounce ideas off each other; I send her some of my scripts, and she sends them back. I have a friend who has this thing called “shine theory,” which basically says that when you become friends with other powerful, like-minded people, you all just shine brighter.
In this story: Amandla wears a Shrimps faux-fur coat. Marc Jacobs vest. Topshop turtleneck, $55. Nike pants, $48. Luka wears a Coach faux-fur jacket. Adidas Originals pants, $65. Coach jacket. Wolford bodysuit, $260. Adidas Originals pants, $60, and sneakers, $80. Claire’s hoops, $7. Details, see teenvogue.com. Adidas Originals jacket, $70. Miu Miu cropped sweater. Off-White
c/o Virgil Abloh jeans. Laurence Dacade shoes. Details, see teenvogue.com. What Goes Around Comes Around vintage jacket, $250. Tory Sport jacket (worn underneath), $250.
Production by: Roger Dong for GE Projects
BEAUTY NOTE: For a gorgeous, full-on ’fro like Amandla’s, try a cream-to-serum formula that infuses curls with moisture— without weighing them down. We love Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk Cream-to- Serum Lotion.