The Real Zendaya

Seeing Zendaya posing for the cameras on the Croisette’s red carpet at Cannes for the Premiere of Dune, one might have been forgiven to assume she was the main star of the much-awaited Denis Villeneuve blockbuster Dune. But when we learn that the rising supernova star that is Zendaya is only seen for 7 minutes as Chani in the film, we are left to wonder what is going on.

Zendaya CFDAFA – Photo Credit: Getty Images

Clearly, something special is happening. And it is the kind of special something that we witness maybe once in a generation, with the emergence of a true phenomenon. There was the arrival of Madonna, Kate Moss, Gaga… and now we can add to that list the arrival of Zendaya, as a fully formed fashion/film/cultural icon.

A Global Sensation

Zendaya’s rise to fame has been phenomenal, and with over 53 million followers on Instagram, she has become something of a global sensation. The more famous Zendaya has become, she has been scrutinized time and time again for her persona, having to overcome adversity and racial discrimination since she was a child.

Born to an African-American father and a German-Scottish mother, Zendaya has stood out for her unique appearance, becoming one of the greatest role models for young girls all over the world. Zendaya has made the notoriously difficult transition from child star to actor and musician. And then to feminist, activist for women’s rights, author and philanthropist. She is a transformative young star, crossing TV, fashion and film, destined to be the biggest Hollywood actress on the planet.

Even at a young age, Zendaya’s beauty helped launch her career as a child model. Later, she became a backup dancer, which saw her rise to mainstream fame in 2013. After playing the successful role of Rocky Blue on Disney Channel’s show Shake It Up, she went on to become a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.  

She also starred as the spy, K.C.Cooper in the comedy TV series K.C. Undercover. And after overcoming a creative block, she was able to immerse herself in a vulnerable, emotional state, in order to play the complex character of Rue Bennett in the acclaimed teen drama series, Euphoria. Her character explores issues of drug addiction and mental illness in the series, giving Zendaya room to showcase the depth of her acting talents. This resulted in her becoming the youngest recipient of an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2020.  

Her early success in acting saw the beginning of what would be a brief, yet successful film career, from starring in the musical The Greatest Showman, and playing Michelle in the superhero film Spider-Man: Homecoming and its sequels.  She went on to make an audio appearance in the computer-animated musical Smallfoot and appeared in the romantic drama Malcolm & Marie. In addition, she has starred in Space Jam: A New Legacy, and most notably the recent sci-fi epic Dune.

The Making of a Superstar

Credit: Harper’s BAZAAR

Zendaya was born on September 1, 1996. She was raised in California, with five siblings on her father’s side and grew up amongst millennials that were forward-thinking and free-spirited. Her father, Kazembe Ajamu Coleman experienced a different upbringing during the civil rights movement, and some say he was associated with members of the revolutionary group, the Black Panthers.

Growing up, Zendaya proved herself to be a natural-born performer, which saw her star in many plays for Black History Month and the Shakespeare Theater in Orinda, California. Later on, she discovered her passion for music and joined a hip-hop dance group called Future Shock Oakland, for three years, but ultimately decided to go back to acting.

Zendaya became a student at Oakland School for the Arts, which cast her in several theatres within the area, including the Berkeley Playhouse and the TheaterWorks in Palo Alto.  During her time at Oakland, she studied at the American Conservatory Theatre and joined the CalShakes Conservatory program.  Her outstanding acting performance in various Shakespeare plays earned her stage credits, which was incredible for someone so young.

Dancing With The Stars

However, the acting was clearly not enough to satisfy Zendaya’s industrious energy, and from time to time she found additional work as a backup dancer. She featured in a Sears commercial with Disney star Selena Gomez and performed in a Kidz Bop music video for Katy Perry’s cover song “Hot n Cold”.

By November 2009, Zendaya was cast as CeCe Jones in the Disney show Shake It Up after auditioning with Michael Jackson’s “Leave Me Alone”.  Shake It Up premiered in November 2010, and attracted 6.2 million viewers. It became one of Disney Channel’s highest-rated premieres in its 27-year history.

From Hollywood Records to Zac Efron

Zendaya turned to music in 2011, and released two singles “Swag It Out” and “Watch Me”, and starred in Katie Alender’s book trailer “From Bad To Cursed”. In June that same year, Zendaya performed with Bella Thorne and released the song “Watch Me”, which saw its peak at 86 on the US Billboard Hot Charts.    

In 2012, she signed up with Hollywood Records and collaborated with Bella Thorne, subsequently releasing her debut single, “Replay”. The single reached the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US and was the inspiration to continue her music career. She went on to release her self-titled debut album, Zendaya, in September 2013 just after the single “Replay”, written by Paul Shelton and Tiffany Fred, was released.

Zendaya collaborated with Zac Efron in 2018, which launched her to commercial success as a musician, with the song “Rewrite the Stars” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack. The single received global multi-platinum certifications after it reached the top 20 of several record charts.

Disney to Project Runway

Disney Channel’s “Shake It Up” stars Zendaya Coleman and Bella Thorne | Credit: EW

In 2013, Shake It Up premiered its second season, and Zendaya was invited to be the host of Disney Channels’ Make Your Mark: Ultimate Dance Off. By the age of sixteen, Zendaya became the youngest contestant ever to appear on the show, and after partnering up with Valentin Chmerkovskiy, they finished as runners-up behind Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough.

In 2014, Zendaya appeared as a guest judge on an episode of Project Runway: Under the Gunn, where emerging designers were given the challenge to create the outfit Zendaya was to wear, in her upcoming concert performance. Fast forward to December 2016 – Zendaya was again invited as a guest judge in the Project Runway season finale. 

From Material Girl to Daya

Zendaya has been the face of CoverGirl, Material Girl, Chi Hair Care, Beats Electronics and X-Out”. In 2013, she released her debut book, Between U and Me: How to Rock Your Tween Years with Style and Confidence, to help girls through the tougher parts of the tween years.  

Fashion is something that helped Zenday create distance between herself and her Disney persona, who desperately wanted to create who she was as a person outside of her Disney character. From 2015 to 2016, she debuted her shoe collection named Daya, and clothing line Daya by Zendaya, which was gender-fluid and included a full range of sizes, but this was short-lived. She became Tommy Hilfiger brand ambassador in 2018 and co-designed the Tommy x Zendaya capsule collections, taking inspiration from the ’70s, which saw the rise of “strong, iconic women”.  

Her runway shows were also celebrated at Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, for her diversity and inclusivity.  The shows played tribute to pioneering model icons, women of colour, plus-size and models aged up to 70. In 2019, Zendaya became a spokesmodel for Lancôme and in the following year for Valentino and Bulgari.

In 2018, Zendaya was ranked one of the best dressed women by fashion retailer Net-a-Porter, and in the 2020 September issue for InStyle, she collaborated with Law Roach, the celebrity stylist and stylist for all black designers, artists and creatives. By October 2020, she won the Visionary Award at the CNMI Green Carpet Fashion Awards for her efforts in promoting diversity and inclusion in fashion and film.

Producer and Film Star

Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune | Credit: Collider

Since 2017, Zendaya has been producing and starring in A White Lie, as Anita Hemmings, an African-American woman who was a descendant of slaves and Europeans. She passed as a white woman which allowed her to attend Vassar College in the 1890s. 

In 2018, Zendaya was cast in Brian Helgeland’s crime thriller Finest Kind, and more recently she played the role of Michelle, in Spider-Man: Homecoming.  She was praised by John DeFore of the Hollywood Reporter as a “scene-stealer”, and IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, who said she was the film’s “MVP”. The film ranked number one at the box office after its release and made $177 million its first weekend.

In 2020, Zendaya was cast as frontwoman Ronnie Spector, in the biopic, Spector’s memoir adaptation Be My Baby.  She has also rejoined filmmaker Jon Watts for the leading role in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which is scheduled for filming, December 2021.  

Zendaya continued to work through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, co-starring with John David Washington (Tenet) and working with director Sam Levison (Euphoria) in Malcolm & Marie.  Zendaya’s generosity saw her allocate shares from the film to all cast and crew, as a bonus.

In April this year, Zendaya voiced the character Lola Bunny in Space Jam: A New Legacy with her experience in basketball growing up helping her secure the role. She was also cast in Denis Villeneuve’s recently released sci-fi film Dune.

Zendaya has worked tirelessly in her support of numerous charities and causes.  She became an ambassador for Convoy of Hope in 2012, and up until 2020 she supported and donated to many relief efforts including Hurricane Sandy, which saw her record John Legend’s song “All of Me”, donating proceeds to the cause.  

On her 18th and 20th birthdays, she celebrated with campaigns to help feed starving children through feedONE and raised $50,000 to support the Convoy’s Women’s Empowerment Initiative. Zendaya also performed at the medical Operation Smile benefit in 2012 and was UNICEF’s Trick-or-Treat 2014 campaign spokesperson. July 2015 saw her visit South Africa with UNAIDS, the United Nations programme dedicated to preventing and creating access to treatment for HIV and AIDS. 

There is just no stopping Zendaya when it comes to charity work, with her continued efforts from fundraising with CrowdRise to starring in Malcolm & Marie, which was filmed during the pandemic.  The film was sold in September 2020 with some of the proceeds donated to Feeding America. 

In September 2017, Zendaya partnered with the Verizon Foundation as a spokesperson for their national #WeNeedMore initiative to bring technology, access and learning opportunities to children, which has since empowered them to pursue careers in STEM. Zendaya also teamed up with Google in March 2018 to give back to students at a community school in Oakland, funding an innovative computer science curriculum.

Zendaya in Euphoria | Credit: Variety

Zendaya is a feminist, which she describes as someone “who believes in the power of women just as much as they believe in the power of anyone else, equality, and fairness”. In January 2017, Zendaya showed her support for women’s rights at the Women’s March in Washington and used her social platforms to address racial justice, bullying, body shaming and bullying and voting.  She is an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, and in June 2020, she took part in the George Floyd protests and supported Patrisse Cullors to share anti-racism resources and media.   

In October 2016, Zendaya participated in the “Vote Your Future” initiative, appearing in their video campaign. In September 2020, she encouraged her fans with Michelle Obama, and her “When We All Vote” nonpartisan organization, to check their voter registration ahead of elections.  The next month, she shared a video while casting her vote to remind her about voting again. 

In October 2013, she took part in P&G’s movement called “Mean Stinks and co-hosted the nationwide live-streamed assembly, joined by almost 500 schools. In September 2017, she was fronting, along with her Spider-Man: Homecoming co-stars, in support of the awareness campaign, “Stomp Out Bullying”.

Zendaya has also supported the American Heart Association, City Year, Communities in Schools,, Children Mending Hearts, Toys for Tots, Friends for Change and Donate My Dress, among others.

What the Future Holds 

Credit: Vogue

Zendaya isn’t sure what the next step is in her career. She hasn’t yet signed on to any future movies, but she has certainly set herself up to become a blockbuster star. Whatever she decides to transform into, this young starlet is destined to become the next Hollywood superstar.

She is truly a transformative young star, crossing TV, fashion, film and activism. With so many strings to her bow, Zendaya is destined to be one of the biggest actors on the planet.

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