Zendaya Now Realizes That Her Disney Channel Casting is a HUGE Deal
Diversity in the media is important. To watch a movie with an all-white cast or read a book without any representation of another ethnicity… it’s not realistic; the world isn’t comprised of only Caucasians, you know? That’s why the upcoming reboot of Power Rangers and Chris Colfer‘s new book, Stranger Than Fanfiction, are so awesome — each entity understands the need to plug in members of all communities. And that doesn’t simply pertain to movies and novels, no no, representation on television is equally important. Zendaya certainly knows the deal.
Recently, we caught up with the 20-year-old Republic Records artist at Capitol Studios, in Los Angeles, while she was there to support Verizon’s #WeNeedMore campaign — on International Women’s Day, no less:
There, we discussed the importance of the campaign, plus the notion of diversity in the media.
Not many black actors can say they were the main character on a Disney Channel television series — and Zendaya’s actually been the star of two (Shake It Up! and K.C. Undercover)! So, when we caught up with her, we asked if she realized how big of a deal it was when she originally signed on with the network. “I think when I first signed on [for Shake It Up!] I didn’t know because I was only 13,” she explains. “I think I started figuring that out when young girls would come up to me and be like, ‘I always play Rocky!’ and ‘I’m always your character!’ And, it was always young, black girls and I felt like that was really important for them to see.”
“When I made the decision to go back to Disney Channel [for K.C. Undercover], I thought it was important because at the time, there were no people or families of color on the channel, which I thought wasn’t good,” she says. “Because it’s child’s programming and you want to see… you want your kids to be able to relate to what’s on the TV screen. So, having this really cool spy family that is very positive, and they’re smart, and they’re kicking butt, and just really cool… is so important and I think that representation is really important.”
“So, in order to create that… for example, sometimes I try to be like Shonda Rhimes [the powerhouse behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder],” Z admits. “Everyone wants to be like Shonda Rhimes. But, she did it herself. So, the things that she didn’t see or the diversity that she didn’t see, she went out and made it. You know what I’m saying? So, instead of just waiting for the opportunities to occur, she created her own TV shows and cast the people that she wanted to be on them.”
“So, instead of just waiting and hoping that Disney would make a show with a black family, I was like, ‘Hey! I want to make a show with a black family and star on it,’ she exclaims, proudly. “So, that’s really cool and I love that they embrace the diversity on our show and let us talk about certain subjects and things.”
As for ZC’s involvement in the campaign, you can thank her mom and dad for that. “I was very drawn to this because when Verizon approached me… anything, usually, that has to do with young people positively is something that I’m immediately going to want to do. But this, I think, was really important because both my parents are educators.”
She adds, “My mom actually worked in a– I grew up in Oakland and she worked in an underprivileged school in Oakland that was underfunded and didn’t necessarily have the resources to have technology, arts programs… all the things you could think of that, you know, other schools may have in certain areas, they didn’t have them.”
“I remember my mom always trying to fundraise or get grants or whatever, just to get a computer lab in her classroom or something like that,” recalls the actress. “And seeing the difference when a kid is able to learn even the simplest things like iMovie, you know what I mean? And learn how to put together a movie and do a project in a different form. Like, ‘Oh instead of doing this, I can do a slideshow or instead of doing this, I can try that.’ You know? It opens their minds up to something or alternatives that I think aren’t necessarily always thought of because a lot of people in those communities… or just in general, in life, it’s always like, ‘Oh, I want to be an actress. I want to be a singer. I want to be famous. I want to be an athlete.’ Those are always the jobs that people– the jobs that young kids even think that really exist.”
“But there’s so much more that goes into these things that we see,” the Disney star insists, “there are so many jobs out there, and there are so many opportunities, and you can’t expect these kids to know them and to know those things exist. Like, ‘Oh, there’s somebody who actually designs this website that I visit everyday?’ Or ‘Oh, there’s people that actually shoot all those movies, and light them, and do all of the editing?’ Like, there’s a katrillion different jobs out there. It’s just cool to be able to bring that technology to the kids or expose them to it, and allow them to kind of see themselves as… there was a kid today when we were doing this; I called him ‘Little Josh’ because he kind of looked like my engineer. And, he was like, ‘You know, since being here, I would want to work here. This seems really cool.’ So, he was really into it. He was watching and saying things like, ‘Oh, I think we should add the reverb here’ and blah blah blah and really getting into it. Who’s to say that he would’ve had that experience and really been like, ‘Wow! I may actually want to do this.’
Zendaya is one of eight black stars to play the lead on a Disney Channel show: