Zendaya and Yara Shahidi are two young actresses who are unafraid to speak out and represent for Black girls and women. They’ve utilized their platforms to make political statements on immigration and discrimination but they don’t want to be the sole face of Black women on screen.
“Being thought of as a poster girl, in any situation, is a double-edged sword,” Shahidi said in Glamour magazine Monday, Oct. 2 “Personally, as a young Black actress, I’m happy when people see themselves reflected in my professional work, and that I’m able to tell those narratives. But it has never been — and will never be — my or Zendaya’s intention to be the only versions of ‘blackness’ in the world of entertainment.”
Shahidi is known for playing eldest daughter Zoey on the hit ABC sitcom “black-ish.” She’s gearing up to play that same character as she goes to college in the spin-off “grown-ish.” Zoey is characterized by her super-smarts and popularity and her love of material things while Zendaya’s “K.C. Undercover” character is a tech wiz whose spy parents expect her to follow in the family business.
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But super smart college freshmen and techies aren’t the only things Shahidi and Zendaya want Black girls to know they can achieve — girls can be anything from a model to a fashion entrepreneur. Instead, Zendaya said it was important for her show to specifically represent Black families.
“I didn’t feel like there was any other choice,” she told Shahidi of the series that just wrapped filming the final season. “I was like, ‘If I’m going to do this, this is how it has to be.’ 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.”
Both actress’ characters are wholesome depictions of Black women but the stars know that Black girls and ladies are much more complex. As such, Shahidi says her goal is “not to be the face of Black girls.” Rather, Zendaya and Shahidi agree they want so much opportunity that they’re “drowning in a sea of Black girls.”
“I shouldn’t be the ‘accessible’ version of a Black girl,” Shahidi said. “That doesn’t allow people to fully appreciate their heritage. I’m half Black, half Iranian, and I’ve never seen a half-Black, half-Iranian description of a character in a script ever. There’s more to do.”