Zendaya has effortlessly ascended to becoming one of the top faces of young Hollywood. Smart, outspoken, fashionable, and charitable, the 21-year-old actress not only understands her responsibility as a role model but embraces it with ease and enthusiasm.
The Spider-Man star doesn't hold back when it comes to speaking up on representation in Hollywood. As a biracial woman (her mother is white and her father is black), she understands the importance of inclusion but stops short of wanting be its sole representative. At this year's Beautycon, she made it clear that Hollywood needs to do better in regards to colorism:
"I am Hollywood's, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a black girl, and that needs to change. We're vastly too beautiful and too interesting for me to be the only representation of that."
Zendaya is seemingly on a mission to change the minds of casting directors when it comes to diversity. As women of color, we've all been placed in scenarios where we've had to either use our "white sounding" voice or downplay our ethnicity in order to get the call.
For Zendaya, she is breaking down her own doors by auditioning for roles that are typically reserved for white women. By doing so, she is also opening doors for women of color in line behind her. She told Janet Mock in a conversation for Marie Claire:
"I always tell my theatrical manager, 'Anytime it says they're looking for white girls, send me out. Let me get in the room. Maybe they'll change their minds.' And, honestly, if there's a part that I didn't get or that I really wanted at the time, shit always ends up working out."
As one of the many faces representing #blackgirlmagic on magazine covers of major September issues, she recognizes that the more she puts herself out there, the more Hollywood will not only recognize her talent, but perhaps they will even begin to create more roles for people of color to audition for in the first place.
Zendaya also notes that she stands firm in her convictions, and if something doesn't feel right, she won't do it in order to please others. She says:
"There was a lot of not getting the audition that I wanted and often going out for parts that weren't written for a girl who looks like me and just saying, "Hey, see me anyway," until the right thing stuck. Whenever I've been persuaded or trying to do something to please somebody else or because there's pressure from people in general to make a decision, it always blows up in my face. So I have been in this zone of only doing shit because I want to do it and because it feels right all the way through."
She doesn't take her position lightly, either. Yara Shahidi is also another woman of color blazing the trail of representation in Hollywood. When asked why she is so vocal about Hollywood's lack of diversity, Zendaya knows that she and Shahidi have an important responsibility to help pave the way for women that don't look like them. She says:
"What is important to me is knowing we are not the only black girls in the industry. We kind of have been painted as the face, and that's not the truth. It's important to have a conversation where we are opening the door to our peers and more black women who don't necessarily look like us."
"What is important to me is knowing we are not the only black girls in the industry."
The former Disney star has gracefully transitioned from girl to woman in the acting world. However, Disney kids and child actors have often had a difficult time navigating life after reaching stardom at a young age—insert Lindsay Lohan. But Zendaya is smart enough to know that she doesn't have the option to make those same mistakes.
As women of color, it is almost like our cross to bear: we have to work twice as hard to earn the same opportunities AND we aren't afforded the humanness to mess up. She refuses to jeopardize her career in the name of "just being a kid." She tells Janet Mock:
"What my white peers would be able to get away with at this point in their career is not something that I will be able to do. And I knew that from when I was real young. That's just the truth, and so you'll be kind of afraid of making mistakes because I love what I do. I don't want to jeopardize it at any point because I am not allowed the room to mess up."
Zendaya may be young, but she already has big plans for the future. Like the Ava Duvernays and the Mara Brock Akils ahead of her, she says she wants to help create opportunities for people of color and to maybe one day start her own production company. She says:
"One day I might want to have my own production company and create the material that I want to be in. Sometimes we have to create our own lane and our own opportunities when they're not handed to us."
It would be easy for Zendaya to fly under the radar and not speak out on these issues. Instead, she uses her platform to not only shed light on these issues and is actively taking the steps she needs to in order to make these changes happen.
The example she is setting is one that is desperately needed in today's entertainment world, and we are so here for it!
To read more of her interview with Janet Mock, click here. Zendaya's issue of Marie Claire hits newsstands on August 21.
Featured image by Tinseltown / Shutterstock.com