The entertainment industry is on the brink of seismic change. As former power players crumble under sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked the business, new voices are poised to present the stories Tinseltown has long left untold. Enter Amandla Stenberg, the 19-year-old actor-author who is among those leading Hollywood’s new consciousness.
“Oftentimes when we play black women, we have to play either the pain or the comedy,” says Stenberg, a member of the 30 Under 30 Hollywood & Entertainment Class of 2018. “Just now are we starting to have three-dimensional, nuanced black characters for young women.”
After landing a part as Rue in 2012’s The Hunger Games, she starred in an adaptation of young-adult bestseller Everything, Everything, playing Maddy, a teenage polymath in an interracial relationship. The 2017 love story grossed a healthy $61.5 million on a $10 million budget. She has pushed herself beyond film and television, coauthoring the graphic novel series Niobe: She Is Life—the first to be internationally distributed with a black female author, artist and main character.
Talented and outspoken, Stenberg is amon[g the young game-changers on this year’s list. The category highlights the breakout actors, comedians, digital stars, writers, directors, agents and executives in Hollywood and beyond. The only requirements are that candidates must be under age 30 as of December 31, 2017, and must not have appeared on a previous 30 Under 30 list.
Stenberg is joined by actors including 17-year-old Yara Shahidi, who plays Zoey Johnson on Black-ish. The Minnesota native has been an advocate for diversity in Hollywood among other issues, and is currently working on a spinoff series, Grown-ish, set to air on Freeform in 2018. Fellow TV star Alia Shawkat, 28, plays the lead on TBS’ Search Party and is otherwise known for portraying Maeby Fünke in Arrested Development.
Behind camera, a smattering of directors including Trey Edwards Shults (It Comes at Night) and Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) make the cut. Among the executives on the list is Sam French, head of strategy & business development at studio and distributor A24. French was pivotal in facilitating the financing and filming of 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight. As A24’s first in-house production, the coming-of-age movie grossed $65 million on a $4 million budget and won three Oscars.
But entertainment has long since moved beyond the small and silver screens. Two digital stars, Juanpa Zurita and Gigi Gorgeous, join the club, thanks to their oversized followings and corresponding influence.
Web series may seem passé, but three of this year’s listmakers got their break online. They follow in the footsteps of 30 Under 30 alum Issa Rae, whose Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl kickstarted her career. Sono Patel, a writer and producer on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, first created Ginger Snaps about a group of ambitious girl scouts; Disney’s digital division ABCd picked it up. Fatimah Asghar and Sam Bailey cocreated the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls, which follows the friendship of two young women in Chicago. Asghar wrote and Bailey directed the seven episodes; the pair signed a development deal with HBO to adapt the show for television.
In order to form our seventh annual who’s who of entertainment, we invited four industry veterans to serve as judges: 30 Under 30 alum Rachel Bloom, writer, comedian, cocreator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; Gale Anne Hurd, CEO, Valhalla Entertainment; Kathleen Kennedy, president, Lucasfilm and Mira Nair, director, producer and writer.
Jamel Toppin for Forbes
For Stenberg, it won’t be long before she is in the director’s chair herself. She has already created two short films, as well as the viral 2015 Tumblr clip Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows about cultural appropriation.
Says the Los Angeles native: “I definitely feel it is my responsibility as someone who’s been given a platform at a very young age to utilize it in a way that reaches people and helps people and makes them happy.”
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