The Incredible Rise of Zendaya

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The Incredible Rise of Zendaya

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
From Disney Channel to Emmy winner, we look over the rise of Zendaya. Our video includes "Spider-Man," "Euphoria," "Dune," and more!
Transcript

The Rise of Zendaya


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re looking at the Rise of Zendaya. From Disney star to household name, she’s one of the most talked-about and respected actors of her generation. So without further ado, let’s go back to where it all began.

Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman was born in Oakland, California on September 1st, 1996. Her first name is a variation on “Tendayi” or “Tendayishe”, a term that, in the Shona language, means “to give thanks”. Her father, Kazembe Ajamu, is African-American, while her mother’s roots can be traced back to Scotland and Germany; both are educators - a fact which Zendaya is very proud of, calling them “two of the most selfless people in the world”. Zendaya also has five half-siblings, all of whom are older. As such, despite being the only child her parents had together, her family is actually quite large!

In addition to teaching, Zendaya’s mother also worked as the house manager at the California Shakespeare Theater. Here, Zendaya joined the student conservatory program and soon began appearing in school productions. A multi-talented kid, Zendaya joined a dance group when she was just eight years old. Though she might not have known it at the time, dancing would play a role in helping her to get a foot in the door of the entertainment industry. Before truly breaking into the business, however, she racked up an impressive acting resume during her time at the Oakland School for the Arts.

After doing some modeling and acting in a Nickelodeon toy commercial, Zendaya used her fancy footwork to land a spot as a backup dancer in a Sears commercial being led by an established teen star, Selena Gomez. Add to that her featured performer role in the Kidz Bop music video for “Hot n Cold” and Zendaya was building quite the resume.

Armed with this experience, Zendaya took a shot at the big league in 2009 when she auditioned for “Shake It Up”, a then-upcoming Disney Channel series. She was ultimately cast as Rocky Blue and just like that... her life was changed forever. The “Shake It Up” premiere was one of Disney's biggest to date. Zendaya went from a relative unknown to a child celebrity and tween idol. Dance-driven and the channel’s first female-led buddy series, “Shake It Up” gave Zendaya ample opportunity to showcase her talents. She was nominated for both a Young Artist Award and an NAACP Image Award.

In keeping with the Disney Channel star playbook, Zendaya soon began venturing into music. In 2011, she dropped her first single “Swag It Out", before signing to the Disney label, Hollywood Records, the next year. Instantly recognizable for child and tween audiences, Zendaya’s “Shake It Up” look inspired a line of clothing at Target under Disney’s D-Signed label. 2012 saw Zendaya appear in her first Disney Channel movie and contribute a number of songs to “Shake It Up”’s second soundtrack release.

2013 was another landmark year for the young multi-hyphenate. She set a record as the youngest constant on “Dancing with the Stars”, released her debut self-titled album, and a book! Everywhere you turned, there Zendaya was, absolutely crushing it. The most impressive thing about her success, however, was that she remained humble and down to earth. Her book, “Between U and Me: How to Rock Your Tween Years with Style and Confidence,” had genuinely positive messages.

“Shake It Up” ended in 2013, but where so many other young stars struggle to find their next project, Zendaya almost immediately secured her own Disney Channel series. In what has to be one of the coolest moves ever made by a teenage Disney star, Zendaya asserted creative control over the project to make it more progressive and empowering. “Super Awesome Katy” became “K.C. Undercover”, and Zendaya earned herself a producer credit - at the age of just 16 years old! The show ran for three seasons, ending in 2018.

Challenging studio executives is a bold move, but Zendaya has never been one to play by the rules. And that’s a big part of her appeal. Throughout her career, Zendaya hasn’t been shy about firing back at her critics. She stands up for what she believes in and is especially outspoken about cyberbullying. As Tyra Banks once said "Zendaya speaks her mind and is true to herself in the most professional yet strong, unapologetic way. And she's blowing everyone away with that." What other celebrity uses their 18th birthday to raise money to feed school children?

At 19, the hairstyle Zendaya wore to the 2015 Oscars inspired Giuliana Rancic of E’s “Fashion Police” to make some very offensive remarks. Rather than wilt under the criticism, the young star called out Rancic’s comments in a way that was mature, eloquent and tied the bullying into larger issues of representation and racism in the media. Countless stars rallied behind her and Rancic issued an apology. It’s this sort of thoughtfulness, paired with her refusal to back down in the face of discrimination or injustice, that makes Zendaya such a uniquely inspiring young star.

We don’t doubt that Zendaya has the usual team working in her corner, but it’s clear that she’s at the helm of her own career. Her integrity is unquestionable. She actually fired one publicist for racially insensitive remarks. A perfect example of the agency she exerts over her career is her choosing to put music on the backburner. Disney stars often wind up prioritizing music over acting as they age out of the Disney Channel, but when her music career stopped making her happy, she stopped doing it.

Based on her acting resume, it’s clear that Zendaya can make it just fine without having to churn out hit singles. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” actually marked her big screen debut; we know, hard to believe considering she was already such a big star in 2017. Her performance earned her praise as a "scene stealer”. That same year she appeared in “The Greatest Showman”. It drew a mixed response from critics, but her performance proved a highlight, especially her duet with Zac Efron.

Dating back to her early days on the Disney Channel, Zendaya’ fashion sense has always made her stand out. In her late teens and early 20s, however, she ‘s blossomed into a full blown fashion icon. Whether she’s posing on the red carpet or walking her adorable dog, Zendaya never fails to inspire with her outfit choices, glamorous and casual alike! Vogue labelled her 2015’s Academy Awards' Breakout Style Star. As Constance Grady wrote for Vox in 2019, Zendaya uses “fashion to tell stories”.

As much as we loved Zendaya in the “Spider-Man” films and “The Greatest Showman”, the most powerful showcase of her acting talent to date is in the HBO series “Euphoria”. A tale of sex, drugs and self-discovery, the show centers on a group of high school students and holds nothing back. Zendaya shines especially bright as Rue, a recovering addict and “Euphoria”’s central protagonist. The performance earned Zendaya a People’s Choice Award, a Satellite Award and a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. “Outstanding” is certainly the right word for it!

Zendaya is on top of the world right now. With roles in high profile upcoming films like “Dune”, “Finest Kind”, and “Malcolm & Marie”, however, it would seem that Zendaya’s star is still on the rise. On top of everything else, she’s set to collaborate with Reese Witherspoon to produce and star in “A White Lie”, a film about the first African-American woman to graduate from Vassar College. Between fashion, singing, acting, and activism, there’s seemingly nothing that Zendaya can’t do, and we can’t wait to see what this inspiring young star does next!
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