Tragic Details About Amandla Stenberg

The following references sexual assault and mental health struggles.

Amandla Stenberg was still in junior high when she was cast as Rue in "The Hunger Games." Following their big screen debut in the first installment of the hit book-turned-movie franchise, Stenberg, who uses she/they pronouns, has gone on to make a name for herself in Hollywood. The actor has since starred in a long list of notable films and series, including "The Hate U Give," "Everything, Everything," "Dear Evan Hansen," and more. Stenberg is not only an actor but also a producer and director. At just 15 years old, they directed a film adaption of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper." The young star has already accomplished quite a lot throughout her career.

Acting aside, Stenberg is also an outspoken activist who draws upon their own lived experiences as an LGBTQ Black woman. In 2015, for example, the then-16-year-old released a video that educated her fans about cultural appropriation. The star has also been nominated for three NAACP Image Awards — including one for her role in "The Hate U Give," which explores racial injustice and police brutality — and was named a Next Generation Leader by Time. Stenberg's decision to take on this meaningful role was strategic. In 2018, she told The New York Times, "Activism is the driving force behind all of my work." And like many activists, Stenberg hasn't shied away from talking about the tragic details that have shaped her life.

Her first big role was met with racist backlash

When "The Hunger Games" book franchise made its way to the movie world, there was a lot of buzz about the actors selected to bring the characters to the silver screen. However, not all of that buzz was good buzz.

In the first movie of the series, Stenberg played the role of the beloved character Rue, the youngest participant in the 74th Hunger Games. Though it was not her first movie, the 2012 film was Stenberg's big breakout gig. Unfortunately, what should have been a special moment turned sour when some "fans" took issue with Rue being portrayed by a Black actor. These reactions are even more puzzling when you consider Rue was written as a Black character. Still, this didn't protect Stenberg from racist comments. According to Us Weekly, one Twitter user wrote, "Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie." Another tweeted, "Why did the producer make all the good characters black?"

Stenberg observed all of this hate and it left a lasting impact. As she told Yahoo! Entertainment, "[It gave] me an interesting perspective on what it's like to be a black actress in Hollywood." And in a chat with BuzzFeed News, they said the response only continued to prove, as they put it, "that there was resistance to having black girls in films, and that black women are dehumanized and their lives are seen as less valuable than white lives."

Amandla Stenberg is a sexual assault survivor

In 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. She detailed the allegations in a letter sent to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, in which she expressed that she hoped her story would prevent Kavanaugh from being selected as an associate justice. Kavanaugh denied the allegations and was appointed to the Supreme Court. 

Ford's brave testimony resonated with celebs and private citizens alike. Actor Amandla Stenberg was among the many Americans who were moved by her story, and was even inspired to write an op-ed in which revealed she was sexually assaulted twice. The incredibly vulnerable piece was published in Teen Vogue.

In the essay, Stenberg shared that she had first been sexually assaulted prior to even entering adulthood. "The first time it happened, I was sexually inexperienced, at that juncture between girl and woman, where I was beginning to understand power through sex and craved the approval from cisgender straight men I was being taught to seek," they explained. The star also shared that her second assaulter was someone who wielded some level of social cachet. "Painful things had been done to my body that made me feel broken and disposable," she said of the attack. "I was unable to consent to them, and was silenced verbally and physically when I protested." The actor went on to share that she, like many survivors, struggled to come forward with her story due to fear of victim blaming.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

They didn't want their gender identity to be a 'headline'

In 2016, Amandla Stenberg took to Tumblr to share her preferred pronouns an inquisitive fan. According to Teen Vogue, the star wrote, "I mean they/them makes me feel comfortable but I know that the media and the general populace that follows me will critique it/not understand which makes me feel sad and almost more uncomfortable. So I guess she/her for now." The outlet also reported that Stenberg had previously shared they identify as nonbinary. When fans learned of Stenberg's gender identity, they quickly updated the information on their Wikipedia page. She took to Tumblr to explain that, unfortunately, this could negatively impact her career, and fans weren't happy with this response, per Teen Vogue.

Stenberg later addressed this drama while chatting with Elle. Digging into why they were hesitant in sharing further information about their gender identity, the actor noted how she was caught off guard by both her initial Tumblr post's reach and the overall reaction. And so, they pulled back. "All these articles popped up and my pronouns on Wikipedia changed from she/her to they/them and all of a sudden I felt really confused because something that was very personal to me and I was just in the process of figuring out had already become a media headline and so, that's when I get reluctant about it," the "Bodies Bodies Bodies" star shared.

She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a teen

As previously mentioned, Amandla Stenberg directed the short film "The Yellow Wallpaper" at only 15 years old. As the star told Spark Movement, the themes of mental illness and feminism embedded in the classic story inspired them to create this short.

In the 2021 feature "Dear Evan Hansen," Stenberg plays Alana, a character whose mental health struggles are all too familiar to the actor. While chatting with Shondaland about the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, the star spoke about how she related to her fictional counterpart. "We had a lot of conversations while we were in the more constructive phase with Alana," she said. "We talked about who she was, and particularly about her identity as a Black girl who has depression and anxiety. That felt really critical to me, for sure. Especially because I have depression and anxiety just like so many other people, and have since I was a teenager."

Stenberg went on to share that both she and Alana take medication for their depression and anxiety. However, the actor wasn't able to be as open about this treatment as her character was. "[W]hen I was a teenager, that wasn't a conversation that was really normalized in my family, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I made the decision on my own to get help in that particular form," she said.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Amandla Stenberg is frustrated with being objectified

Like many young stars, Amandla Stenberg has been objectified throughout their career. She evidently reached a tipping point after a film critic made a statement about her character in the film "Bodies Bodies Bodies." The critic, who is a freelance writer for The New York Times, wrote in her review that the film "doubles as a 95-minute advertisement for cleavage." Stenberg responded to this critique by messaging the writer on Instagram. Wilson didn't appreciate the actor's reply and took to TikTok to share a video where she revealed her DM to the world. "Maybe if you had gotten ur eyes off my t**s you could've watched the movie!," read Stenberg's message featured in the since-deleted video (via Newsweek).

The actor then released a TikTok in response to Wilson's video in which she clarified that she intended for her DM to be lighthearted, stating, "Lena, I thought your review was hilarious. I thought my DM was funny. I did not mean to harass you."

While Stenberg harbored no ill will, they noted that the writer wasn't the first to talk about their body. "It's quite surprising the amount of commentary I receive on my boobs," Stenberg said. "I wore this tank top in this movie because me and the costume designer felt it fit the character well. I do get tired of people talking about my chest. There seems to be a lot of unwarranted conversation about my chest." Understandably, she's not a fan of that conversation.