Article by Elizabeth Burnett and Gemma Rogers
Zendaya. Just her name carries so much significance that you won’t be able to stop yourself thinking about her modern media involvement. For some, the vibrance and bold aesthetics of HBO’s Euphoria will be the first thing that comes to mention, struck by her striking rendition of Rue who showed the stark realities of drug addiction and living as a black teenager in present day America. For others, her intense featurette in Villeneuve’s Dune with rising star Timothée Chalamet will take centre stage as a classic role, with a multitude of adverts promoting simply the actresses’ presence in a sheer bid to attract viewers. Zendaya and social media go hand in hand: one hundred and thirty- five million Instagram followers proves her online power with just a few photos. However, the one thing we all know is that if you sit and contemplate Zendaya’s influence in the modern media scene there is simply far too much to digress on. To put simply: we’d be here all week.
Very few celebrities have risen to the top in such a rapid and unexpected manner at later stages in their career. In a blink of an eye Zendaya transformed from a youthful, primetime television Disney Channel star to one of the most recognised figures globally. While this means she’s accumulated copious amounts of money, prestige and famous acquaintances it does not mean that it was easy or she ‘just got lucky.’ Not only was she prepared to fight against the fact that in acting, everyone is persevering to ‘make it’ and that the industry is incredibly oversaturated with wannabe stars, but the fact that as a black woman growing up in modern day America, things would be twice, even thrice as harder than a white woman on the same journey.
Her own journey however, seemingly almost dream-like for a woman of colour, began when she signed with Disney Channel. Only twelve years ago, Zendaya adopted the role of Cece in Shake It Up at a mere age of fourteen, and from then on, her career continued to advance in leaps and bounds. Soon she progressed to a singing career, Dancing with the stars, judging on numerous TV shows, and bodied the main role in K.C Undercover, a show that many of us watched with awe, with the outlandish dream of aspiring to become a spy. It’s strange to think that since then, as the KC undercover generation has grown up, Zendaya’s place in film has grown at almost two times the pace. It only happened in five years. Five star-studded years ascending to infamous status. Thinking back to the last 5 years of our life, we can safely say we have not once placed anywhere near the Billboard Top 100, danced alongside celebrities such as Jacoby Jones, or signed to a prestigious record label TWICE.
Zendaya’s evolution from younger target audiences into a more mature setting is wonderful to watch. Her role as Michelle (to fans, MJ) in Spider Man Homecoming filled with sarcasm and spark propelled her to the critically acclaimed limelight. The rest, is simply history regarding the amount of projects in film she participated in. As the fresh MCU perception of Spider Man continued its trajectory, Michelle became centric in the Spider Man universe alongside the superhero, eventually becoming Peter Parker’s and the beloved British actor who plays him, Tom Holland’s girlfriend. Her popularity has reached the point, where the only thing heard about Dune was how little she was in it. The initial focus of Dune was set to be the stunning cinematography or Timothée himself, playing the challenging role of Paul Atredies, however Zendaya was pinpointed as a co-star who was not a man but a woman, representing a profound change in the film industry, as a rapidly increasing amount of actresses are becoming more successful than their male companions, through their own incredible acting, hard work and determination.
The constant misogyny and sexism that is ever present in Hollywood is not unheard of, as the Me Too movement has created much needed international conversations about sexism and gender inequality – an impactful conservation as actresses navigate a male dominated field. This causes an
extremely large gender pay gap compared to other workspaces, and Zendaya has in no doubt experienced this thorough out her career, while co-starring with some of biggest actors in film. Fighting against the prejudices that have existed in Hollywood for many generations, Zendaya continues to be an inspiration as she is not afraid to amplify her views on her social platforms. Her incredible vocalness during the Black Lives Matter riots and the expressed need on Equal Pay for Black Women Day in July last year. Zendaya shared her platform with those who needed it most: she went as far as lending her Instagram account to Patrisse Cullors to share anti-racism resources and media. In 2016 she was also one of the few celebrities who supported the Vote Your Future initiative and appeared in a campaign video to show her solidarity to the cause. Her transparency about views that are fundamental to her as an individual cannot help but make many respect her further, and she is in no doubt prepared to stand up once more, and many times after that, for causes that matter to her and be charitable to those who need it also.
During an interview with GQ she recalled, “In this industry, I had to learn how to do small talk and stuff, because I guess I would kind of come off cold to people. I remember my stylist was like, ‘You come off kind of cold. People think you’re mean because you don’t talk,’ when really I just was too nervous.” This is just one of the few microaggressions that are targeted almost directly at black women in the public eye, as they are constantly expected to be laughing and smiling to demonstrate a non-threatening persona, compared to other actors who are hardly judged for their demeanour. The way she smiles, the clothes she wears, her makeup and hair choices are also picked apart by ravaging journalists and distorted into otherworldly means, however as she has risen into critical acclaim, isn’t it becoming more and more difficult to see the wrong in Zendaya on the red carpet alone?