celebrity

How Zendaya became one of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Zendaya is having a moment.

The 25-year-old actress is currently attending the Venice Film Festival, serving looks and promoting her upcoming film Dune, ahead of two press tours for both Dune and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

She's also filming the second season of Euphoria, a TV series where she plays teen addict Rue, a role that last year made her the youngest-ever woman to win lead actress in a drama series at the Emmy Awards.

Speaking to British Vogue this week, the cover star shared that these acting roles are just the beginning. 

"I gotta hurry up and figure out how to f**king become a director, man," she told the publication. "I’m trying, I’m learning every day, I really am. There’s so much I want to do."

"If I ever do become a filmmaker, I know that the leads of my films will always be Black women," she added.

That's not the first time the former Disney Channel star has pushed for more diversity on screen.

Zendaya, born Zendaya Coleman to two teacher parents, started acting in theatre productions at a young age. She also scored modelling and dancing gigs, and was back-up dancer for Selena Gomez in a TV ad. But it was getting cast as Rocky Blue, one of the leads in the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up, that made her famous. She had just turned 14 when the show premiered. 

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While on the show, Zendaya launched her singing career, and then, at the age of 16, became the youngest person to compete on the US version of Dancing With The Stars. She finished runner-up. 

With Shake It Up ending in 2013 after three seasons, the Disney Channel wanted Zendaya to star in a new series: Super Awesome Katy, about a high school student following in the footsteps of her spy parents. But she was only going to consider it on her terms. 

“The only way I was going to come back to the Disney Channel was if I was in a position of more power,” she told Cosmopolitan

Zendaya, then aged just 16, wanted to be a producer on the show. She wanted her character to be super-smart, trained in martial arts, no good at dancing or singing, socially awkward… and she didn’t want her to be called Katy.

“Do I look like a Katy to you?” she asked Disney execs.

Listen to Mamamia's daily entertainment podcast, The Spill. Post continues below.

The last of her terms was that she wanted the show to feature a family of colour. 

“One thing that is really important to me is diversity on the channel,” she told Cosmopolitan. “It’s hard as a young person of a different ethnicity or background to look at the TV and not see anyone who looks like you.”

The execs agreed to Zendaya’s terms. The show, newly titled K.C. Undercover, was a hit. Zendaya had an input into the content, including a storyline about the controversial stop-and-frisk policing policy. 

“I have so many friends who say yes to everything or feel like they can’t stand up for themselves in a situation,” Zendaya told Teen Vogue. “No. You have the power.”

Growing up with an African-American dad and a Scottish-German-American mum, Zendaya was aware of race being an issue from a young age. 

“One day, I came to school with my hair straightened, and that was the only day anyone ever complimented me on my hair,” she told Cosmopolitan. “That kind of messes with you.”

She’s never been afraid to speak out. On Oscars night in 2015, Fashion Police commentator Giuliana Rancic made a comment about her dreadlocks, saying she must have smelled of “patchouli” and “weed”. 

Watch Giuliana Rancic talk inappropriately about Zendaya's hair on the Oscars red carpet. Post continues after video.


Video via E!
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Zendaya hit back, saying that was “outrageously offensive”. 

“My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscars red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of colour that our hair is good enough,” she posted on Instagram.

Mattel then created a Barbie in Zendaya’s red-carpet image, including dreadlocks, to acknowledge her status as a role model. 

That same year, she called out Modeliste magazine for retouching photos of her. 

"Had a new shoot come out today and was shocked when I found my 19-year-old hips and torso quite manipulated," she posted.

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The magazine’s editor pulled the issue and replaced the retouched images with the originals. 

Zendaya has managed to combine activism – she’s worked with Michelle Obama – with a wildly successful acting career. In February, she starred opposite Denzel Washington's son, John David Washington, in the black-and-white shot Netflix film, Malcolm & Marie. The film solidified her star status.

Now, she prepares for the release of two big-screen films: the highly anticipated sci-fi movie Dune, alongside Timothée Chalamet, and Marvel's Spider-Man: No Way Home, where she will reprise the role of MJ, opposite rumoured boyfriend, Tom Holland.

While neither Zendaya nor Holland has confirmed their relationship, his Instagram post for her 25th birthday last week, suggest the rumours are true. 

"My MJ, have the happiest of birthdays. Gimme a call when your up xxx," he wrote.

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While the 25-year-old is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about young actresses in Hollywood, Zendaya's acutely aware that she needs to continue to work, harder, to keep it that way.

"I’m always like, 'I will always need to work.' Because if I don’t work then everything can be gone tomorrow," she told British Vogue.

Feature Image: Getty and Instagram/@tomholland2013

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