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Why Zendaya Auditions For Roles Meant For White Women

Celebrity News

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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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