Zendaya on Where We Go from Here

The actress speaks to Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors about activism, anxiety, and why her teenage niece gives her hope.

I first met Zendaya in 2016 when we were in line, waiting to do an Instagrammable moment at an awards show. As I watched her break through the prop they had in the pH๏τo booth, I remember automatically feeling proud of her Black girl fierceness and joy. She was so present and bold.

We recently reconnected during the national rebellion against police terror, when she invited me to take over her Instagram. In our first conversation, she made it clear that she wanted people to hear from me directly. She wanted her millions of followers to understand this movement. Honestly, I was honored and grateful for her generosity. What I’ve learned about Zendaya in this short period of time is that she always champions the most vulnerable, and she doesn’t pretend to be something she is not. During our hour-long interview, she kept reminding me that she sees herself as a creative first.

The idea of being called an activist felt too big because it is a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly. Zendaya is the kind of grounded you wish all of your friends could be like. She is honest and specific about what she sees as important and necessary for all Black folks. She is making such an impact in the world for so many people — young people in particular — as she leads the way with vulnerability and transparency, showing up unapologetically as her full self.

PATRISSE CULLORS: My first question for you is: How are you doing? So many things have happened, between COVID-19 and the uprisings. You’ve been working a lot too.

ZENDAYA: I genuinely don’t know how I’m doing. [laughs] It’s been an interesting few months, to say the least. But I’ve been trying to remain not just positive but grateful. I’m grateful for my health and for the fact that I can quarantine safely. I know that I’ll be OK financially once this is over, but for a lot of people that isn’t the case. So anytime I start complaining, I just stop.

PC: I think many of us have been feeling like that too.

Z: It’s been tough to stay creative and motivated [during this time] because there are so many things that can take you down emotionally. And then, of course, everything that has happened [following the death of George Floyd] has been devastating. I didn’t know what I could do to help. And that’s when I reach out to people like you. Because at the end of the day, I’m just an actress, you know? And I don’t pretend to be anything other than that. If I don’t know something, then I ask people who are actually on the front lines doing the work. I’m up in the bleachers, not on the field. So I always think, “How can I cheer you on and be a part of something greater than myself?”

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