TORONTO — Amandla Stenberg says she hopes her role in the topical drama “The Hate U Give” empowers black girls.
Stenberg plays a teenager named Starr who is moved to activism after witnessing the killing of her unarmed friend by police.
“I think Starr is a refreshing character because she is really multi-dimensional, and she’s really black. And we don’t often get both of those qualities in on-screen narratives,” Stenberg said Saturday at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film premiered.
Based on the bestselling young adult novel by Angie Thomas, “The Hate U Give” is a raw look at how racism and police violence affect a community.
“Angie wrote an amazing book that with a lot of depth and a lot of heart explores what the contemporary black experience is,” said Stenberg, seated alongside Thomas, director George Tillman, Jr., and co-stars including Anthony Mackie and Russell Hornsby.
“So our main goal was just to capture that and bring that forth in the film and hopefully what it does is it makes black people, black girls, feel validated, feel empowered, feel strong and stand in their power and their truth.”
The film examines how trauma is processed in communities affected by violence.
It also looks at how racism manifests in everyday interactions — for instance when a friend of Starr’s, who is white, unfollows her on Tumblr because she doesn’t want to read her posts.
“I feel like that’s something that this film explores — what does racism look like in today’s day and age?” said the 19-year-old Stenberg. “How does it manifest? And oftentimes, it show up as microaggressions. And those microaggressions come out and they demonstrate a lot of prejudice and internalized notions about blackness.”
Stenberg, whose other credits include “Everything, Everything” and “The Hunger Games,” is also known for speaking out on issues surrounding gender identity and cultural appropriation.
She said she saw many parallels between her own experience and that of Starr, which helped her bring authenticity to the role.
Taking on such weighty issues, however, did not come without challenges.
“At the end of the day, we are, through this film, protesting police brutality,” Stenberg said.
“I was scared at times, but I was supported and loved and I’m so grateful for that.”
The Canadian Press