Zendaya has managed the challenging transition from a bubbly young child star on the Disney channel, to one of tinsel town’s finest actresses with a broad range of titles already under her belt.
After spending the better part of a decade starring in various series’ and films on the children’s network, including Shake it Up where she got her big break, the 23-year-old has just earned her first Emmy nomination for her performance in Euphoria, which streams on Binge.
The HBO series attracted significant backlash when it aired last year, largely due to its X-rated content centred around teens. Controversies aside, the show has proved incredibly popular among viewers, and it marked Zendaya’s introduction to serious acting roles.
She plays Rue Bennett, a recovering drug addict with crippling anxiety. Explaining why she took on such a dark role – a far cry from her more recent portrayals in The Greatest Showman and Spider Man: Far From Home – Zendaya said she connected with the suffering storyline.
“This sounds corny, but I listened to my heart. I didn’t think strategically ‘this is the role I should be doing’. I just fell in love with what I read, the character and there was no doubt in my mind that I needed and wanted to do this. It’s purely because I felt connected to it,” she told Deadline.
“Whether people like it or not, it’s real. I’m telling somebody’s story. Just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening all the time, every day.
“It’s hard for me to speak on addiction because it’s not something I have dealt with directly. But I still had friends who were dealing with things, and I had to help them through it.”
On top of taking on projects that strike a chord with her, Zendaya is also acutely aware of her influence in Hollywood being a woman of colour, and the possibilities she has to make real change.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in June, she said she chose to view this pressure as a win.
“I do take a heavy responsibility but I’m appreciative about that because I think there’s a lot of good I can do,” she said.
“Now, more than ever, specifically with Black Lives Matter and all of that, I feel an obligation to make sure that I’m aware and putting out the right things and in line with organisers and people on the ground.”
It’s no secret diversity – or lack thereof – in Hollywood is a problem. And Zendaya admitted being bi-racial meant she felt she “didn’t have the room to make a mistake”.
“It’s a constant thing. Being a young Disney actor, that’s one level, being a young Black woman is one level, and then being very hard on myself is another level. It’s also just a personal fear,” she added to the publication.
“I want to do a good job, and sometimes that can cause you to be fearful of things.”
While her acting chops have boosted her celebrity, Zendaya’s eye for fashion has also had a hand in it, with the actress dubbed one of the best dressed celebrities of 2019 by several magazines thanks to her bold choices that also tell important stories.
Watch every episode of the Emmy nominated show Euphoria on BINGE. New Bingers get your 14-day free trial and start streaming instantly
In big part it’s her graciousness that has earned Zendaya a fierce following (77 million Instagram followers to be exact).
She showed maturity beyond her years after the 2015 Oscars, where she wore a breathtaking white gown and styled her long hair in dreadlocks.
E! commentator Giuliana Rancic commented during a live telecast, “That hair is swallowing her. I feel like she smells like patchouli oil.” Another voice which was not identified added, “Or weed.”
It would have been easy to be angered – or too scared to say anything at all – but a then 18-year-old Zendaya took the moral high ground with this inspiring statement that quickly went viral. “Wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color (sic) that our hair is good enough”.
Mattel later announced a Barbie modelled on Zendaya’s Oscar look, a groundbreaking move given the brand’s signature blonde haired, white skinned dolls.
In the years since Zendaya has used her celebrity to discuss social issues without being divisive.
She also proved herself a loyal friend when it came to her Shake it Up co-star, Bella Thorne, who has embarked on a different career path.
Thorne, 22, made headlines this week for raking in $1.3 million on the explicit content site, OnlyFans. She has also entered the world of directing porn.
But despite their different paths, Thorne revealed Zendaya is still supportive of her.
After Thorne leaked her own nude photos last year when she was hacked, TV host and actress Whoopi Goldberg trashed the teen star on The View. “If you’re famous, I don’t care how old you are, you don’t take nude pictures of yourself,” Goldberg said of Thorne.
Later, Thorne posted about support she had received from Zendaya following the incident. “Just a reminder that you are strong and courageous and beautiful inside and out,” Zendaya’s text read. “Just letting you know you’re a light and I’m super proud.”
Zendaya is the dream celebrity to represent Generation Z, and with Euphoria slated for a hotly-anticipated second season – set to begin filming when the pandemic eases – and her feature in what is being touted as the biggest movie of 2020, Dune, it seems as though Zendaya hasn’t even begun yet.