What has been your favorite role to play so far?
I don’t know if I can pick a favorite, because my experience has been so varied. But what I loved about The Hunger Games is that it had a fantastic cast. It was basically like summer camp. We were all in the woods together for three months. There were a lot of pranks pulled and sleepovers and that kind of thing. It is kind of a rare experience where all the members of a cast like each other. There were no conflicts or anything.
My role in Colombiana (2011) was an honor to play. [Amandla played a little girl who witnesses the murder of her parents and grows up to be a hit woman played by Zoe Saldana.] I was excited about it because you don’t see that many powerful women in movies as lead characters. But to be honest I was a little nervous about it too, because [Saldana’s role] was also highly sexualized and all that. But my character was exciting to play because it was a very positive character. She’s strong and independent. She didn’t need anybody.
Was it weird to have your Hunger Games character made into an action figure?
[Laughs] It was pretty bizarre. The Hunger Games was one of the very few films I’ve made, and I got an action figure! It was pretty crazy. It’s really cool. I love to play with it with my niece. I like the fact that it is an image of young girl and it is not a weird sexualized action figure like you often see.
Oprah recently interviewed Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis, Phylicia Rashad, and Gabrielle Union about the challenges black actresses face in Hollywood. They discussed the lack of quality roles for black women as well as the criticism women of color sometimes receive in a hostile and competitive media landscape. At this point in your acting career, have you experienced anything like this? If so, what is your hope for the future?
With The Hunger Games, there was some drama over the fact that a lot of people didn’t expect my character Rue to be African American. So, I received some negative feedback. I kind of distanced myself from it because it seemed very silly to me. I didn’t really think I needed to focus my energy on it.
I don’t really check my personal mentions that much on Twitter. I think it is best to abstain from looking at them rather than come across one negative comment and have it stick in my mind. This happens to a lot of young people in the industry, and it kind of breaks them down. When [those tweets] happened I really tried not to look at what was going on. It was pretty shocking to see some of the articles that compiled the tweets I received. I remember calling my friend Jackie Emerson and telling her I wouldn’t understand all of the drama even if Rue wasn’t supposed to be black, and she comforted me. She told me I had to realize it was nothing personal, but it was unfortunately how society was reacting to the “shocking” presence of an African American actress. [Laughs] I tried not to let it get to me.
I’ve also been told “We’re going in another direction” when I’ve auditioned for roles, and the “other direction” turns out to be a girl with blue eyes and blonde hair. I do agree that perhaps it is more competitive when you’re an African American actress. But at the same time, I can almost use it to demonstrate my ability, because since there are fewer roles for African American women, I can make a deeper impression. I can feel more special about my roles because I know I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I know that I’m one of the people who have made it.
In the future, I think there will be a lot more roles in this kind of new wave of African American actresses like Kerry Washington. Kerry Washington is really revolutionizing the industry. She’s a great role model for me.