Film Forward

The Powerful Reason Zendaya Auditions For Roles Intended For White Women

"Hey, see me anyway."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

Zendaya is already quite the inspiration — after all, she took control of her Disney Channel series, uses her platform to create change, and speaks up for women of color on the regular. Now, Zendaya is explaining her powerful reason why she goes out for roles that are intended for White actresses.

In the cover story for Marie Claire's 2018 September issue, the incredible Janet Mock conducts a wide-reaching interview with Zendaya touching on a variety of important issues. Among them is a discussion about diversity in Hollywood — a topic close to the hearts of both women.

Early in the discussion, the 21-year-old drops a quick line about going out for roles that weren't written for people who looked like her. To Zendaya, it was a way she could tell others, "Hey, see me anyway." To follow up on this, Mock later asked more about what it was like going out for gigs like that. In response, Zendaya mentions how going out for Spider-Man: Homecoming was one of those projects.

"At first, I thought I would have to because you're kind of used to the notion that, OK, even though the character is fictional and could be anybody, they probably are going to go with the standard of what they want and what they've always had," Zendaya told the mag. "I definitely went into it like, 'Hopefully they'll'—as they call it in the industry—'go ethnic.' I remember making the decision to straighten my hair. I didn't know that they were going to be more diverse in their casting. I didn't know that I was walking into a situation where they were already breaking the rules. You get so used to having to break the rules for people."

As we know, actresses of color are underrepresented in Hollywood. A recent study examining the 100 top-grossing films of 2017, showed that 68 percent of female characters were cast with White actresses. Just 16 percent were Black, 7 percent Latina, 7 percent Asian, and 2 percent were of another race or ethnicity. There's a long way to go in terms of making up ground, especially if we stick with the way things used to be.

"I'm an actress. We've all experienced getting the no's, and that's OK," Zendaya told the magazine. "I always say, 'If you don't get cast, it wasn't yours to begin with.' But there's been a few things. I always tell my theatrical manager, 'Anytime it says they're looking for White girls, send me out. Let me get in the room. Maybe they'll change their minds.' And, honestly, if there's a part that I didn't get or that I really wanted at the time, shit always ends up working out."

While we have people like Zendaya out there pushing the boundaries, it's important to note that she is doing that while taking on the pressure of being a role model for women and girls of color — across all industries. Add on the fact that Zendaya isn't allowed the same room to mess up as her White peers, and you have a true game-changer.

Cover image via Tinseltown / Shutterstock

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