Their names turn heads. Their faces make hearts flutter. But with this weekend’s $12-million opening for “Everything Everything,” Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson are finally breaking out from the acting crowd.
Granted, she’s just 18 and he’s 22, but the duo have played second fiddle, some might say, for far too long.
Stenberg’s Rue in “The Hunger Games” made a huge impression, but Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth were the stars. For Robinson, it was Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard who took star billing in “Jurassic World” and, before that, Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence in the ABC Family show “Melissa & Joey.”
With “Everything, Everything,” however, Stenberg and Robinson are staking their claims as leading material.
“It feels like a long time coming because I’ve been working since I was a lot younger,” Stenberg says. “It’s an insane opportunity with a very low percentage chance that I actually get to do this. Like, did someone make a mistake? There's a glitch in the system.”
Robinson adds: “I’ve been feeling very similar. But it’s really great to be able to feel like all the energy you've been expending is starting to move and you're getting traction. It is overwhelming at times but exciting and scary all rolled into one. It’s been a blessing going along for the ride.”
She just happened to be black, because black people just exist too.
— Amandla Stenberg on her 'Everything, Everything' character
“Everything, Everything” follows a teen (Stenberg) with a medical condition that requires her to stay inside her germ-free, super anti-bacterial home. The only people allowed in are her doctor mother who had the house specially fitted, played by Anika Noni Rose, and her nurse, played by Ana de la Reguera. But when a cute boy (Robinson) moves in next door with his family, she’s willing to risk her life to swim in the Hawaiian ocean.
Stenberg says she was at first “wary” of the role.
“I’m being sent a teen romance film written for white people and they’re probably not going to cast me,” she remembers thinking. Then she discovered the film was an adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s 2015 bestselling book of the same name, an important point as the author, a black woman married to a Korean American, wrote the novel so that her daughter, who’s biracial, would be able to finally relate to a character. Stenberg herself is mixed.
After reading the script, she thought of “how powerful it would be to be a part of project like that that’s distributed in a mass way to impact how kids are seeing relationships, interracial relationships and black girls in film.”
“I felt like I had never seen one of these young adult stories that is very pop and big that a lot of kids get to see with the lead who’s a black actress playing a character who wasn't written to be black or to focus on her race,” she said. “She just happened to be black, because black people just exist too.”
Alongside many others, I'm trying to move this mountain a little bit, trying to create representation and diversity in Hollywood.
— Amandla Stenberg
Robinson signed on for the same reason, following a meeting with director Stella Meghie.
“I thought she had the right perspective to tell this story,” he says, “and I liked that it was an interracial couple but wasn't explicit about it and it didn’t really address it, which I think is just as powerful, if not more.”
The film is being heralded by some as the first of its genre to be made by a major studio with an interracial couple.
Stenberg and Robinson find themselves perfectly suited for such a picture whose message, in part at least, is subtle yet political (if only because diversity in Hollywood is still a needed conversation in the industry). Stenberg, for example, is already a noted voice of her generation, speaking out on cultural appropriation (via a YouTube video titled “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows” directed at folks like Kylie Jenner), identifying as nonbinary in an industry all about the male-female gender binary (via Tumblr) and imploring all to embrace intersectional feminism.
“Alongside many others, I'm trying to move this mountain a little bit, trying to create representation and diversity in Hollywood, and trying to do that forcefully with words and sneakily by befriending and trying to infiltrate these corporations,” she said.
Although Robinson has been less outspoken, he hopes his eventual filmography will do the talking.
“I’d like to look back and hope I made stories that elevated people’s social conscience a bit, even if it is a small way,” he said.
Last month he wrapped filming as lead of “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” due in 2018, about a gay teen struggling to come out.
The pair is looking forward to how the industry responds to the current sociopolitical moment marked by Donald Trump’s presidency and strained race relations.
“They say the best art comes out of times like these,” Stenberg said.
“Fingers crossed because we could really use it,” Robinson added.
As for “Everything, Everything,” Stenberg is sure it’s “something kids really want.”
“What happens often in Hollywood is that adults tend to underestimate how smart kids are. But, I mean, we grew up with computers in our hands,” she said. “We want something that is fresh and original and creative, and the moment we see something that is corporate and boring we ignore it, scroll past it, because we’re used to filtering out ads constantly.”
But with this film, Meghie “had a fantastic grasp on the intelligence of her audience and understood kids would want something a little more compelling and dynamic and weirder and indie, in some ways,” Stenberg continued. “It‘s powerful because kids will actually be able to relate to it.”
Robinson agreed, saying he hopes that audiences can learn from the film to “break down whatever it is holding them back in their life.”
“And that relationships can't really be founded on text and electronic communication,” he said. “You really need to get to know the person before you run off to Hawaii.”