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Features

Zendaya: a superstar, not a challenger

Zendaya

From film to fashion, former teen actor Zendaya has emerged as one of the few bona fide A-list superstars of her generation, thanks to a stunning recent run of hits on both the screen and the red carpet.

The 27-year-old American leads two of Hollywood’s highest profile movies of the year so far “Dune: Part Two” and “Challengers” while also finding time to co-host New York’s Met gala earlier this week.

Her appearance in two separate dazzling outfits at the annual showbiz summit in Manhattan set social media ablaze, and wowed critics who increasingly refer to Zendaya as a “fashion icon.”

That is just the latest accolade in a career that has seen Zendaya become the youngest lead actress in a drama winner at the Emmys, with “Euphoria,” release a musical album, star in multiple Marvel superhero movies, and move into producing.

“To me, Zendaya is a thousand years old. She has already lived many lives before this one. And yet, she is as young as springtime,” Zendaya’s “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve told Time Magazine in 2022.

“She is timeless, and she can do it all,” said Villeneuve, calling Zendaya “a cultural icon in the making.”

Born Zendaya Coleman in California in 1996, the future star initially struggled with extreme shyness, according to her parents, who are both teachers.

After trying her hand at sports including basketball, Zendaya discovered a passion for the stage. Her mother Claire worked a second job at a theater in Oakland.

“She would beg me to bring her to technical rehearsals,” recalled her mother, in a 2021 interview.

Noting her transformation on stage, Zendaya’s parents decided to take her to Los Angeles for auditions. Aged 14, she landed a role in Disney Channel series “Shake It Up.”

More success quickly followed, as she released a self-titled pop album in 2013, before making her big-screen debut in superhero smash hit “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

She played the role of MJ, the girlfriend of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, played by English actor Tom Holland.

As the film spawned sequels, the pair became and remain a couple in real life.

Zendaya

‘Euphoria’

But it was Zendaya’s role in dark HBO teen drama “Euphoria” that established her as a formidable, grown-up star.

She played the show’s main character Rue, a troubled youth plagued by addiction and self-destructive behavior.

The role earned her the prestigious lead actress in a drama Emmy at 24, and she repeated the award two years later.

Between those wins, Zendaya appeared in Villeneuve’s first “Dune” movie, in a small part that was nonetheless highlighted in the movie’s marketing.

Villeneuve praised Zendaya’s “authenticity” as “a new superpower,” and she features heavily in the sequel, which came out in March and has earned $700 million globally.

Her other major role this year, “Challengers,” casts Zendaya as a tennis prodigy at the center of a love triangle in which rivalry, friendship and lust intertwine.

Zendaya also produced the movie, having been sent the script while shooting “Euphoria” and “falling in love” with the character of Tashi.

“It’s a female character that doesn’t have to be likable and doesn’t care about you liking her and doesn’t ask for forgiveness… that was refreshing to me,” she told a press conference.

Zendaya dazzled the red carpet at premieres for both films, in a cyborg outfit for sci-fi “Dune” and wearing courtside chic for “Challengers.”

Outspoken

For now, Zendaya has stepped away from her music career.

Asked last month, she expressed distaste for the business side of the music industry, before adding that she would “maybe put out a little song” in the future.

She remains focused and outspoken on issues of diversity and representation.

During her later teen years at Disney, Zendaya pushed for the inclusion of a Black family in the series “K.C. Undercover.”

She has been outspoken in her support of the LGBTQ+ community, and openly criticized beauty standards and race in the entertainment industry.

“I am Hollywood’s… acceptable version of a Black girl, and that has to change,” said Zendaya, whose mother is white and whose father is Black, in one interview.

“As a light-skinned Black woman, it’s important that I’m using my privilege, my platform, to show you how much beauty there is in the African-American community.”

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