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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Zendaya is living every child actor’s dream

The former Disney channel darling has blossomed into a successful actress and activist 

By CLARA FISCHER — arts@theaggie.org

The 2000s child actor to A-lister pipeline has produced some extremely successful celebrities, including the likes of Ariana Grande, Keke Palmer, Nick Jonas and Olivia Rodrigo. One member of this club who is currently experiencing a major moment of pop culture relevancy is Zendaya.

Before garnering fame, the Bay Area native attended Oakland School for the Arts, a K-12 institution that combines college preparatory material with visual and performing arts. Coincidentally, she shares the alma mater with her “Euphoria” costar Angus Cloud, though when asked about their high school relationship in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Cloud stated, “We had some of the same friends I guess, but I didn’t really know her.” 

 After booking some roles in her local theater (including a silkworm in her school’s production of “James and the Giant Peach”) and being part of a hip-hop dance group at the tender age of eight, Zendaya got her big break in 2010 as one of the lead roles in Disney’s “Shake It Up.” On the show, she starred as Rocky Blue, 14-year-old dancer and best friend to Bella Thorne’s CeCe Jones. 

After “Shake It Up” ended its successful three-year run, Zendaya had a brief stint away from the Disney bubble, appearing on the 16th season of major reality TV show “Dancing With the Stars” as well as launching a short-lived (but fairly successful) music career. She ultimately came back to the company in 2015, but on her own terms this time around.

“The only way I was going back to Disney Channel was if I was in a position of more power,” said Zendaya in an interview with Cosmopolitan. “One thing that is really important to me is diversity on the channel.”

 She took on a dual job, both producing and starring in “K.C. Undercover.” The series focused on K.C. Cooper (played by Zendaya), an uber intelligent, black-belt wielding teenager who gets recruited to be a superspy, and the typical Disney channel shenanigans that ensue. Though still with Disney, Zendaya’s work on the show marked a pivotal moment in her career, proving not only her skills as a more mature actor, but also establishing her as someone not afraid to create necessary change in the industry. 

And it’s exactly this fearless willingness to speak on issues that matter to her that sets Zendaya apart from her peers. Through her pure outspoken nature, she has become a spokesperson for diversity in the entertainment industry. 

Zendaya herself has commented on the nature of her position a number of times. Notably, in a discussion at 2018’s Beautycon Festival, she stated, “I am Hollywood’s acceptable version of a Black girl, and that has to change… 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.”

Another key aspect of her growth from child actor to well-respected A-lister was her use of fashion to represent her newfound maturity. 

“I wanted to create who I was as a person outside of my Disney character… Fashion helped with that,” Zendaya said in an interview with Janet Mock for Marie Claire. “My stylist, Law Roach, and I created a world beyond what I was known as through clothes.” 

This approach worked, and Zendaya is now also famous for turning out some iconic fashion moments. Who could forget her hot pink breast-plated Tom Ford dress for the 2020 Critics Choice Awards, or the plethora of showstopping Met Gala looks she and Roach have produced over the years? It’s safe to say that the young actress has already made a name for herself in the fashion industry.

Since her departure from Disney Channel, Zendaya has landed an astonishingly high rate of high-profile roles, including leads in Marvel’s “Spider-Man” trilogy, “Dune” and “The Greatest Showman,” working with other big names like Tom Holland and Timothee Chalamet. She also stars in HBO’s hit teen-drama “Euphoria,” the show which led her to become the youngest recipient of the Emmy award for the “Best Actress in a Drama Series” category.

Suffice it to say, Zendaya is a shining example of how to successfully translate childhood fame into a rewarding career. As she puts it in her conversation with Mock, “Sometimes you build your platform to step off so others can step on, and that’s what honestly motivates me.” 

Balancing the pressure of growing up in the spotlight with the gritty challenges of normal life is no mean feat, but that may just be part of the reason the public loves Zendaya — she makes it look easy.

Written by: Clara Fischer — arts@theaggie.org

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