Amandla Stenberg, the 19-year-old star of “The Hate U Give.” (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post) (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

On a recent visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, actress Amandla Stenberg made a beeline for “Watching Oprah,” an exhibit dedicated to the TV-icon-turned-all-of-it-icon.

“Oprah was very integral in my household,” she said, peering at the biographical information on the walls. “My mom used to be a journalist. . . . She worked at Elle magazine and then moved into celebrity journalism. The irony is not lost on me.”

Amandla Stenberg is the 19-year-old breakout star of "The Hate U Give" and redefining celebrity for a new generation. (Ashleigh Joplin,Nicki DeMarco,Sarah Hashemi,Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

Stenberg had come to the museum for an hour or so while her new movie, “The Hate U Give,” was being screened for a group of high school students at the National Museum of American History around the corner. After trading a pair of skinny stilettos for comfier combat boots, she noted that her mother brought back a souvenir sweatshirt from the African American Museum after a visit to Washington and that Stenberg wore it the entire time she was shooting the film. “So it’s kind of like a full-circle moment for me,” she said.

This moment is full-circle in other ways. Stenberg, who turns 20 later this month, had a breakout role in 2012’s first installment of “The Hunger Games,” in which she played Rue, a doomed young tribute. But she’s on the cusp of becoming even better known with “The Hate U Give,” an adaptation of the wildly popular young-adult novel. Stenberg plays the book’s protagonist, a 16-year-old high school student named Starr Carter who witnesses the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police, weighs whether to testify before a grand jury and becomes galvanized by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The movie’s themes chime with Stenberg’s own willingness to take a stand, which she has demonstrated in her online persona and her career choices. According to “Hate U Give” author Angie Thomas, Stenberg embodies a generation impatient for change.

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Stenberg in “Where Hands Touch. (Jo Voets/Everett Collection / Everett Collection)

“She doesn’t allow the world to box her in, nor does she let it silence her,” Thomas said. “She is not bending to Hollywood’s standards but rather setting her own, and for that, not only will the film industry be better but the world will indeed be better.”

If Stenberg attains the stardom many have predicted for her, it will be as a product of her generation at its most intersectional, media-literate and culturally competent. As an artist, activist and digital native, Stenberg is uniquely suited for a time when the public, the personal, the professional and the political have never been more fused.

Actress Amandla Stenberg at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington late last month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Biracial in ethnic derivation, nonbinary in gender identification, gay in sexual orientation, multi-hyphenate in creative aspiration, Stenberg embodies a similar blurring of boundaries. She grew up in Los Angeles with her African American mother and Danish father, commuting from their modest Leimert Park neighborhood to the far tonier Wildwood School. Her first movie role was in “Colombiana,” as a young version of Zoe Saldana. “The Hunger Games” — just her second film — was seen by tens of millions of people around the world. But it was a video she made for history class in 2015 that became a watershed: Called “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” the 4-minute-30-second tutorial explained the most offensive dynamics of cultural appropriation. After Stenberg posted the video on Tumblr, it became a viral sensation.

Since then, Stenberg has been hailed as something of an avatar for a new, un-compartmentalized form of Hollywood activism. Whereas actors once adopted political causes almost like career accessories, in today’s 24/7 fishbowl, celebrities are expected to live their principles with every choice they make — on the red carpet and on Twitter, in their movies and publicity appearances, and in any unguarded moment within recording range of a cellphone.

Stenberg with Jesse Borrego in 2011’s “Colombiana.” (Carlos Somonte/TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection)

Stenberg, who has more than 2 million followers between Twitter and Instagram, acknowledges that she sometimes feels “overanalyzed,” adding that “a lot of weight is ascribed to my actions even when they’re not necessarily that deep to me.” There was a minute when Stenberg’s offhand comment that she might be interested in adopting gender-neutral pronouns resulted in her Wikipedia entry being reedited with “they” and “them” instead of “she” and “her,” and journalists quickly followed suit. But Stenberg realized that she “didn’t need those pronouns to feel comfortable. . . . And it felt almost detrimental to those who really did need them.” (For the record, she’s good with “she” and “her.”)

Stenberg found herself in the midst of controversy this year when some observers expressed disappointment that a light-skinned actress was cast in “The Hate U Give,” in part because the cover of the book depicts Starr as darker-skinned. Stenberg issued a long statement on Instagram assuring that her critics had been “seen and heard,” adding that the “lack of diversity within the black girl representation we’re finally getting is apparent and it’s NOT ENOUGH, and I understand my role in the quest for onscreen diversity and the sensitivity I must have towards the colorism that I do not experience.”

Stenberg in Washington last month. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Thomas insisted that she had Stenberg in mind while she was writing the book. “I came across her ‘Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows’ video, and I was completely blown away,” she said. “Immediately, I thought, ‘That’s exactly who I want Starr to be.’ She embodied everything I hoped this character would become. She was outspoken, aware and passionate. She was the personification of ‘black girl magic.’ ”

“She doesn’t allow the world to box her in, nor does she let it silence her.”

Angie Thomas (author of “The Hate U Give”) on Amandla Stenberg

As she has navigated young adulthood, a burgeoning career and the pressures of call-out culture, Stenberg has exerted commensurate care in nearly every choice she has made: Although she has three movies coming out this year (including the dystopian teen thriller “The Darkest Minds” and the World War II-era drama “Where Hands Touch”), one reason she hasn’t made many until now, she said, is because the only roles available to her were “a black girl with a dirty mouth, or people who were oversexualized, or the little sister of a drug dealer — just dangerous tropes that I had no interest in portraying.”

She even took herself out of the running for a role in “Black Panther,” she recently explained to Variety magazine, because, as a light-skinned woman of color, she felt it was “not a space I should have taken up.”

Stenberg in the upcoming “The Hate U Give.” (Erika Doss/Twentieth Century Fox)

If the near-constant scrutiny seems unfair to a teenager trying “to figure my s--- out,” Stenberg insisted it’s not a burden. “Because I have been vocal or critical of certain systems,” she said, “I think that puts me in a position where I’m more heavily critiqued, which I’m always down for if it’s in a way that’s constructive, because I’m definitely not perfect.” Plus, she added, “I don’t know if what I’m experiencing is necessarily unique to me. . . . I think everyone experiences it in some way, especially teenagers and younger people, because it’s just the world that we’re living in.”

It’s the fact that Stenberg has navigated that world so adroitly that makes her so attractive to Hollywood: “When I take meetings with executives or in discussing a deal for a potential film, one of the first questions that I get asked is, ‘How many Instagram followers do you have?’ or ‘What are your social media analytics?’ ”

Noting the escalating toxicity of the Web, Stenberg added, “I’ve kind of clocked the environment of the Internet. [It] used to be a place of freedom and expression for me. But as the culture of the Internet has shifted, I’ve felt that less. Now it’s a function of my job.” Still, she credited social media for contributing to the flourishing of filmmakers of color and inclusive stories. “People can demand the representation they want to see and create their own content in media so that they’re not dependent upon these large, traditionally white systems in order to give it to them,” she said. “And once you can operate on your own platform and get exposure, these studios . . . are like, ‘We really need to cater to this need,’ which is fantastic.”

Casting debates surrounding “The Hate U Give” notwithstanding, no one can challenge Stenberg’s commitment to the project: She read the book while it was still in manuscript and attached early on (before the book’s cover image had been created). She consulted with screenwriter Audrey Wells as she was writing the script, and director George Tillman Jr. kept her apprised of whom he was casting alongside her. “I felt the entire time that my voice was valued beyond just that of an actor,” Stenberg said. “I was listened to.”

Stenberg, an actress who seems uniquely suited to her time. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Stenberg welcomed the collaboration in large part because she always wanted to direct: She had applied to and was accepted at New York University but deferred indefinitely when her career took off. Writing and directing her own films, she said, “is definitely in the cards.” For now, she has no new roles lined up. Instead, she’s making music (one of her songs is on the “Hate U Give” soundtrack), co-authoring the graphic novel series “Niobe: She Is Life” and enjoying her life in L.A., where she’s been dating the singer King Princess. She would love to work with Spike Lee, who recently volunteered to be her honorary uncle, as well as Steve McQueen. And she’d really love to appear in a “Kill Bill” sequel, playing Copperhead’s daughter all grown up.

If “Kill Bill 3” sounds like yet another chance for the Twitterverse to take Stenberg to task, it also makes her again generationally on point at a time when everyone’s faves are problematic. “I hope that I always remain a problematic fave,” she said with a grin. “It means that I’m figuring stuff out and doing something right.”

Additional credits:

Lettering by Craig Ward for The Washington Post; animation by Sarah Hashemi; video by Ashleigh Joplin and Erin Patrick O'Connor; video editing by Nicki DeMarco; photo editing by Dudley Brooks; design and development by Madison Walls.