Ever since her Disney Channel come up, Zendaya has killed everything she's touched. The epitome of beauty, style and grace, the 20-year-old actress has effortlessly remained down-to-earth and true to self in her rise to fame. Serving as a role model for brown and black women everywhere, Zendaya is unafraid to remind the industry who she is and how that shapes her position of power.
In a recent conversation with Marie Claire, Zendaya sat down with Janet Mock to discuss her work ethic and explain how she uses the privilege that lays within her complexion to break down Hollywood's colorism.
“As a black woman, as a light-skinned black woman, it’s important that I’m using my privilege, my platform, to show you how much beauty there is in the African-American community,” she said at this year’s Beautycon in New York. “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.”
At such a young age, Zendaya strives to create those opportunities and build paths for those that walk behind her by taking initiative over her career choices. "I don't necessarily think comfort is always the best place to live in," she told Mock. "I decide what projects I want to take on or if I want to produce. I’ve really found the power in just doing what makes me happy."
When faced with an obstacle, the actress is most excited by the chance she has to overcome it. After spending a few years in the industry, Zendaya became accustomed to the age-old notion that white girls and Eurocentric features are Hollywood's standard, regardless of the fictionality of the part. But to the actress, changing "their" mind is a part of the game.
"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,'" she said while explaining how she landed her role as MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming. "I remember making the decision to straighten my hair. I didn’t know that they were going to be more diverse in their casting. I didn’t know that I was walking into a situation where they were already breaking the rules. You get so used to having to break the rules for people."
In attempting to break the rules, Zendaya acknowledges that she won't always come out with the W. “If you don’t get cast, it wasn’t yours to begin with,” she said. While she believes that every loss is for the better, for Zendaya, personal wins and losses don't overshadow her larger purpose to shift the industry in new directions.