Amandla Stenberg plays a survivor of a plague that wiped out nearly every young person — and left the remainder with volatile powers
The kids are labeled like terrorism threat levels.
Greens. Blues. Yellows. Oranges. Reds.
This is how youth are categorized in The Darkest Minds — all of them, although there aren’t many left to count. About 98 percent of children died in a plague that swept the entire world, and the ones who survived emerged from the illness … different.
They weren’t weakened. They became more powerful. Dangerously so.
That’s the premise of the new film, out Aug. 3, that’s based on the bestselling YA novel by Alexandra Bracken. Amandla Stenberg, the reigning YA movie queen after starring in last year’s Everything, Everything and the upcoming The Hate U Give, stars in this survival thriller as Ruby.
Contrary to her name, she’s actually an “orange.” The colors indicate the individual’s danger level.
“The first one is green, where they show heightened intelligence, they’re super smart. Basically savants,” says director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, previously an animation director known for DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3.
“Then you have blues that are able to move things telekinetically,” she adds. “Then there are yellows, which are able to basically short out anything that’s electric. So they’re not good to have around your appliances. Then there are the oranges that are able to control people’s minds. And then the reds …”
In another story, these might be superhero powers, but in the world of The Darkest Minds, kids are rounded up and put into camps to isolate them from the adult population that fears their abilities.
Although the abilities are considered a curse, the ones who wield them don’t see it that way. “We try and make every one of the powers something that if you had them, it’d be cool to have,” the filmmaker says.
A first trailer for the film will be debuting soon, but before that we have these images of the four main characters from the movie. Led by Ruby, they’ve escaped their camp. And now they’re on the run, with a human hunter named Lady Jane (Brienne of Tarth and Captain Phasma herself, Gwendoline Christie) in relentless pursuit.
The Darkest Minds is produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, and Dan Cohen, the team also behind Stranger Things and Arrival.
Not all of the adults in the story are necessarily hostile. Mandy Moore costars as Cate, a doctor at detention Camp Thurmond, who has a sympathetic streak, and realizes that Ruby has potential beyond what the other physicians and researchers see.
“Ruby’s a pretty normal kid before the plague hits. She has a very loving relationship with both of her parents. But, when it hits, something happens at her own hands that greatly changes her life,” Stenberg says. “Like all of the other kids, she is placed in a camp. And, she’s placed in Camp Thurmond, where the kids are forced to mundane activities like make boots and are just really mistreated.”
Then she gets her chance to escape. “Everything changes once she’s broken out of the camp. But when she’s out in the world, it has changed so much since she was 6 years old.”
That’s the last time that she was actually free, a normal person.
“She meets this group of kids who completely change her life. They figure out how to survive in this world together,” Stenberg says. “It activates an independence and she finds a sense of family. That’s something that she’s wanted so badly, to be close to people.”
Here is that family, as seen with “Blue Betty,” the van that takes them on their life-or-death road trip as they flee the camp. (Named after the cleaning lady sign on the side, the vehicle was known as “Black Betty” in the book.)
Ruby’s survivor friends include Liam (Harris Dickinson, arms crossed), Chubs (Skylan Brooks, in red) and Zu (Miya Cech.)
“Liam is the romantic interest from the book,” Yuh Nelson says. “He’s a blue, so Liam can move things around with his mind. Ruby is an orange, where she can basically go into people’s minds.”
That makes their tentative relationship especially tricky. Imagine being able to literally pick into the brain of your crush. Trust is one thing that they’ll need in order to stay ahead of their pursuers, but it’s easily broken.
“Those four kids are gonna be in this journey together, trying to find safety together, and growing closer together and protecting each other in this sort of very dangerous situation,” the filmmaker says.
Chubs is their strategist. He’s a green. “So he’s incredibly smart,” Yuh Nelson says. ” Zu is a yellow, which is basically able to short things out or control electricity.” (Hence the rubber gloves.)
The world in general has not fared well after the death of nearly every young person. The scorn and fear toward the powerful survivors has only exacerbated the crisis.
Here we see the crew venturing into an abandoned mall, where nature has already begun to reclaim it. The cause of the plague that caused this catastrophe is one of the film’s mysteries.
“Why does it take out kids? What is this thing? How do you cure it?” Yuh Nelson says. “How do you fight it? Do you want to fight it? All these things are, I think, a metaphor in many ways for how kids can feel, or even adults can feel, like outsiders in their own selves. They don’t know how to find a place in the world. How to find a self-acceptance.
“There may be things about themselves that they just don’t feel like they belong,” she adds. “.And I think that was one of the great things in the book Despite basically not liking aspects of yourself, you can find people who accept you and people that can actually be a family. To sort of love each other, despite everything.”