Blanchard has been an outspoken activist for years. When she was 13, she used her Tumblr account to pen a short essay on intersectional feminism, explaining to her followers that white women often approach political movements with a blind eye toward their own privilege as well as to racial and economic disparities. She regularly retweets Rachel Maddow and author/trans advocate Janet Mock. At least half of her Instagram posts address urgent issues, like the Flint, Michigan water crisis and the need for access to safe, legal abortions.
Her presence has proved magnetic, which isn’t something you can say about many online personas. “I was clutching my pearls a little bit because on the surface, a white cisgender young actress talking about Black Lives Matter and trans folks?” says Mock, who discovered Blanchard, along with some of her socially conscious friends (The Hunger Games’ Amandla Stenberg, black-ish’s Yara Shahidi) via Twitter. “I was like whoa. It was beyond the perfectly crafted tweet. It was conversations she was having with her fans. Young people in her generation have found a way to make art and to make noise.”
Ava DuVernay, director of Oscar-nominated films Selma and the documentary 13th, came to Blanchard the same way. “I follow voices on social media that appeal to me and that have a fresh take on what is happening in the world, especially around women and girls,” she says. “Rowan was someone who is really representative of the generation coming up right now.” DuVernay, who is currently making history as the first black woman to direct a movie with a $100-million-plus budget, decided to cast Blanchard in her much-anticipated adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 classic A Wrinkle in Time, due out next year. “Her character is one that we created that symbolizes a really big idea in the book,” she says. “When this part came up it made me think of her, because I liked her spirit and her spunk.”