Zendaya Opens Up About Disney and Breaking Down Racial Barriers in the Entertainment Industry

By Carissa Almendarez Aug 06, 2018 10:10 PMTags
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Zendaya is opening up about her journey in the entertainment industry.

For this year's September issue of Marie Claire, the former Disney star delves into the struggles she's faced in the industry while growing up as a young black woman. Zendaya first entered our hearts and television screens in 2010 when she appeared as Rocky Blue in the Disney Channel show, Shake It Up.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding child actors is not one necessarily of virtue, but Zendaya has defied the odds and gracefully transitioned to the respected actress she is today, starring in big blockbuster films such as The Greatest Showman and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

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The Marie Claire cover star has never passed up on an opportunity to speak her mind on topics close to home. In her interview with Janet Mock, she emphasizes that she loves acting, but even more so, she loves the platform it has given her.
She states, "When I'm able to do great things in my career, and fortunately be financially blessed, and then give it away and watch the money actually do good s--t, that is the purpose. That's the reason why you do things. Supporting students in Oakland is important to me...For me, I get to do my passion and what I enjoy, and that has become a forum to do much greater things. Sometimes you build your platform to step off so others can step on, and that's honestly what motivates me."
Zendaya has definitely allowed many others to step on her platform. She realizes that although she represents a minority in the business that has long gone without a strong presence, she does not speak for everyone. She acknowledges the consistent grouping together of herself and her peers, specifically Amandla Stenberg and Yara Shahidi, when young black women in TV and film are thought of. 
She stresses, "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."
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Zendaya's confidence to speak her truth wasn't always as effortless as she makes it seem. She credits her boldness to what she calls her "Olivia Pope gut." She explains, "I just had to be in tune with that and be like, 'Listen, whatever feels right, go after that.' There's going to be a lot of different opinions and a lot of people telling you what you should do and what you shouldn't do, but I had to home in on what Zendaya wanted and drive straight toward that."

However, she points out that the game may be the same but the rules for many are different. She reveals, "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. I don't want to jeopardize it at any point because I am not allowed the room to mess up."

That moral-guiding intuition that she refers back to has equipped Zendaya with the fierceness it takes to change other's perspectives in an industry that has long been set in its typecasting ways. She mentions, "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, s--t always ends up working out."

That fearless mentality created a career-changing opportunity for her, landing her her first big screen leading role in Spider-Man Homecoming. She recalls, "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."

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So, what's next for the rising Hollywood royalty?

"Right now, acting has been a great outlet," she shares. "It's definitely been a process, especially because I'm coming from this very different world of Disney. Having been consistently on a television show, I felt stagnant. Not having that anymore, I am being seen as a real actress, doing what makes me feel pushed and motivated. I don't necessarily think comfort is always the best place to live in. I'm kind of excited as 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."

It was recently announced that she would be partnering with Reese Witherspoon on a new project titled, A White Lie. Zendaya is set to star in the film, which revolves around the true story of a light-skinned African-American woman named Anita Hemmings, who convinces a college admission's board that she is Caucasian in order to attend the school.

A story, although different in it's time period, is no doubt a narrative close to Zendaya's heart with her parent's being educators and her like-minded boldness to enforce diversity in an unbalanced system. She admires Witherspoon's eagerness to tell these kinds of stories and hopes on day she can do the same. She reveals, "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."

Check-out the full interview on Marie Claire's website here!