This year’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter’s Roundtables looks very different from its usual format, forcing its celebrity participants to gather virtually to talk about their experiences in the industry. Zendaya joined the Drama Actress Roundtable, talking openly with her peers about the challenges of being a young Black woman in Hollywood.
The 23-year-old sat with Janelle Monáe, Rose Byrne, Helen Bonham Carter, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Aniston for the THR conversation moderated by Lacey Rose. The youngest of the group, Zendaya shared that her time in the industry has been a different sort of challenge, made complicated by her past with Disney and the fact that she’s Black.
“It's a constant thing,” Zendaya explained. “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. I want to do a good job, and sometimes that can cause you to be fearful of things.
Zendaya got her start on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up in 2010, starring on the show with Bella Thorne. The show led to a series of other Disney roles for the Oakland native, even opening up opportunities for her to pursue a music career in tandem. Like so many of the Disney darlings before her (Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, etc.), Zendaya eventually began to make her transition out of the kid-friendly world with a part in the Spider-Man reboot alongside Tom Holland as his MJ, a casting choice that infuriated many fanboys and caused the actress to be the subject of racist vitriol online.
Nonetheless, Spider-Man: Homecoming and its sequel Spider-Man: Far from Home were blockbuster hits. Later, Zendaya also made headlines for her role in The Greatest Showman and the animated film Smallfoot. Despite the success she'd experienced in her career, Zendaya was still petrified at the challenge that came with HBO's Euphoria, in which she stars as not-so-recovering teenage addict Rue. The series covers other sensitive issues — such as LGBTQ+ identity, domestic violence, and teen pregnancy — so Zendaya felt that she had to get the story right.
“'I’m my biggest critic, so some of [the pressure] was internal — not wanting to make a mistake or worrying that maybe I didn't have the room to make a mistake and wanting to make the right next move,” she shared from her home. “But I also wanted to prove myself.”
And prove herself she did. Season one of Euphoria received rave reviews across the board, with critics praising Zendaya for her understated but raw portrayal of the protagonist's deep-rooted issues. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the HBO original series has been picked up for another season. Filming is obviously on hold due to the pandemic, but when it's time to get back to work, Zendaya says, she'll be ready to dive back into the twist and turns of Rue's life headfirst.
"There's something that happens when a special character comes along, for me," she said. "I'm excited to go back because the motivation is to work harder and become a better actress. I just want to get better."