Three Great Things: Amandla Stenberg

The actor and activist, currently starring in Dear Evan Hansen, on queer community, Copenhagen cycling and their cat Kumo.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the release of Dear Evan Hansen, the big-screen version of the smash Broadway musical starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amandla Stenberg and Julianne Moore, multi-talented actor and activist Stenberg shared what brings them the greatest joy in life. — N.D.

Being Part of a Close-Knit Queer Community
I love being with my community and my close loved ones and feeling the freedom to fully show up as myself and explore parts of my identity and be challenged to continue thinking critically.

I came out officially in 2019 and around that time also truly found my queer community for the first time. I’d never had such a close group of people around me, mostly people of color and queer people. That was so critical to help me feel like I could be myself, or even understanding parts of myself, and stop internalizing a lot of self-hatred that I had in different areas of my identity. I met a lot of those people in Los Angeles, and they’re my closest friends now. We have a community that we’re always actively working on together that’s very intertwined and close knit. Those moments with them are so important to me in terms of feeling love, giving love, understanding who I am and feeling supported and understood.

When you’re discovering your identity, you almost self-limit in a way, because you feel a necessity to hold on to that identity for dear life once you’ve discovered it. So, I think when I first came out, I thought of my identity as a gay person or as a non-binary person in very static ways, or even thinking about my Black identity in a way where I had to fit into certain boxes. And it’s another form of limiting myself. Because I am part of this community now, I feel very secure in those components of my identity, so that the way I express myself is a lot more fluid.

My Cat Kumo
My cat’s name is Kumo and he’s four years old. I’ve had him since he was nine months old. He’s so bizarre. I’ve never met a cat quite like him before. He’s really shy. I don’t think he has a single, aggressive bone in his body. He’s even scared of dead birds. He really loves belly rubs and will sometimes wake me up in the middle of the night so I’ll pet him. But he’s too cute for me to say no.

I recently moved into an apartment in New York that I’m sharing with roommates which has several levels, and he’s really happy there. I’ve been bouncing around for the last few years and he wasn’t happy in some places because they were really small. But now he has all of these different levels to explore, it’s like a cat haven. For the first time, I’m letting him go out in the backyard, and I’m seeing different parts of his personality come out because he’s actually experiencing all the senses and smells of the outside world.

I always wanted a cat growing up, but for years my mom told me that we couldn’t get one because she was allergic. But then I learned a couple of years ago that she’s actually not allergic to cats, she just told me that because she doesn’t like them. So my childhood was a lie! The funny thing is she really loves Kumo. That’s how the truth ended up coming out: I really needed someone to cat sit, my mom was the only person available at the time and she then admitted the truth to me that she was not allergic. And then they had a really good time together!

Kumo has been there for me through so many difficult times. He was actually a breakup cat. The person I was dating was allergic to cats, and the breakup really destroyed me, so I was like, “You know what? Now’s the time.” So I got him. And oh my God, I don’t think I would have gotten through that breakup without him. During the pandemic, it was also really special to have him with me. I think he could sense my and other people’s anxiety. I had some friends who were displaced staying with me during the pandemic and we teamed up together and huddled down together. It was strange how at certain moments when one of us was feeling really stressed out or anxious about everything going on, Kumo would glom onto that person and really attach himself to them.

Cycling Around Copenhagen Listening to Music
I’m half Danish and my dad lives in Copenhagen, and I recently just got back from visiting him there. I really love to bike around Copenhagen and listen to music. There’s just something really special about gliding around those streets, which are so beautiful, and feeling connected to the city and the world at large when you’re listening to music that you love.

My dad moved back to Copenhagen last year, after spending 40 years in Los Angeles. Growing up, I visited Copenhagen a few times, but didn’t really have a relationship to the city. Last year, though, I spent three months there in order to qualify for Danish citizenship, so I really started to feel connected to the city and to my friends there. It’s a really beautiful place. There are a lot of cobblestone streets, canals, lakes, trees and parks, and it feels safe there, too. Biking is such a huge part of the culture because it is such a small place. It’s the main mode of transportation for a lot of people and there’s a really special freedom and autonomy when you’re just biking from place to place.

When I’m in Copenhagen, I almost always want to listen to dream pop or Slowdive, or something like that. While I was in Copenhagen last year, I got really into A.R. Kane, a Black British duo from the late ’80s who pretty much originated dream pop.

I really like to DJ my own life, depending on how I’m feeling or the occasion or who I’m spending time with. I have a bunch of different playlists for different moods, and my music taste is really all over the place. I have a side of me that really loves hip hop and R&B and trap, and then I have a side of me that really loves ’90s rock, alternative and indie rock. And then I also love ’70s funk and soul, and jazz and classical. It’s all over the place!

Featured image of Amandla Stenberg in Dear Evan Hansen via Universal Pictures. Images of Kumo via Amandla Stenberg’s Instagram.

Amandla Stenberg is currently starring as Alana Beck in Dear Evan Hansen, out now in theaters through Universal Pictures. Stenberg first gained recognition for her role as Rue in The Hunger Games and garnered international praise as the star of The Hate U Give, based on Angela Thomas’s New York Times bestseller, and is currently in production on A24’s slasher pic Bodies Bodies Bodies, alongside Maria Bakalova. Stenberg recently starred on the small screen alongside Andre Holland in Netflix’s limited series The Eddy, created by Damien Chazelle. In 2017, Stenberg starred in Everything, Everything, directed by Stella Meghi, for which Stenberg won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. Stenberg has been praised for her crusade towards improving society and sparking thoughtful conversation. She has shared personal essays on topics such as cultural appropriation, intersectional feminism, mindfulness, biracial identity, police brutality, systemic inequalities and beauty standards. In 2018, Stenberg appeared on the cover of Time magazine for their Next Generation Leaders Issue. (Photo courtesy Universal Pictures.)