We can always trust Zendaya to keep it real, so when the 21-year-old actress sat down with “Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi to talk race and on-screen representation for Glamour, we knew it was likely some truth bombs were about to be dropped.
In the interview, Zendaya and Shahidi fangirled over successful black women, including Beyoncé, Shonda Rhimes, and Michelle Obama, who they both referred to as their 46th president. Shahidi then turned the tables on Zendaya, looping her in with the list of trailblazers for the work she’s done on her Disney Channel show, “K.C. Undercover.” Before signing on for the series, Zendaya demanded that her character’s name be rewritten from “Katy” to “K.C.,” the show feature an all-black family, and that she be hired as an executive producer.
When asked what gave her the confidence to demand a part in her show’s creative choices, Zendaya explained that it was a childhood of not seeing herself on-screen. “I didn’t feel like there was any other choice. I was like, ‘If I’m going to do this, this is how it has to be,'” she said. “There needs to be a black family on the Disney Channel. A lot of people who aren’t people of color can’t quite understand what it’s like to grow up and not see yourself in mainstream media.”
And in spite of her own success, Zendaya admitted that there is still a lot of progress to be made, especially for black women who might not have the same lighter-skinned privilege that she has. “And you know, there is so much work left to be done,” she said. “I’ve talked about this before, but can I honestly say I would be in the position I’m in if I weren’t a lighter-skinned black woman? No.”
Shahidi agreed with Zendaya’s desire to see a more diverse group of black women represented on-screen, lamenting that she’s never seen a half-black, half-Iranian character written in a script. However, despite their fame, the women are adamant in not wanting to be seen as a “face of black girls,” but instead someone that opens the door for other black women to succeed.
“One thing that I constantly say is that my goal is not to be the face of black girls,” Shahidi said. “The goal is to open the door so widely that I am drowning in a sea of [black girls.]”