Zendaya is Complex Magazine’s ‘Woman of Next year!’ The 19-year-old covers the latest issue of the publication and talks about being a role model and much more. Check out highlights from the interview below!
You went to Africa for charity work recently. How was that experience?
Being a young African-American woman, it’s important to know where you come from. And I think there’s a big disconnect with realizing that we’re from Africa and knowing what’s actually happening there and having a connection. I’ve always had that because my father took the steps to be in touch with his roots and where he comes from. He took a DNA test and reclaimed his African name. I have an African name and a French middle name. I have two parents who are very proud of where they’re from. My mom and my grandma do tons of research on where we’re from: Scotland and Germany. I think it’s important that I help other young people gain at least the interest of knowing where they’re from.
Growing up biracial, what was it like to find your identity?
You get the best and the worst of both worlds. I know there were a lot of times when you try to figure out where you fit in. I just realized that it worked to my advantage because I just got along with a lot of people. But to literally be two races, it’s really hard to see color because I’m the gray area. I had to learn about both sides of myself and be really proud of and educated in both. I think that’s why I’m comfortable with myself and can speak on certain issues because I’ve taken the time, or my parents have taken the time, to teach me who I am.
Has there been a moment when you felt really out of place?
Maybe a little bit. I went to a predominately white private school in the [Oakland] Hills where my dad was a teacher, and then I went to a school in downtown Oakland that was predominantly black. It was interesting to learn and see the differences, but I also realized how easy it was for me to adapt to both. I’m proud of both and I can fit into any kind of scenario or situation.
You wore dreadlocks to the Oscars and Giuliana Rancic said that you looked like you smell like patchouli oil or weed. You responded on Instagram, writing that Rancic’s remarks were “ignorant slurs” and “outrageously offensive.” What’s the response been since you called her out?
Honestly, only positive. It was a learning experience for myself and for everyone who read it. A lot of people don’t realize that hair is a big thing for a lot of people, not just African-American women. It’s something to be aware of and to be cautious of. So it was something that I really felt like I should speak on. There were so many women, of all races, that came up to me and were like, “I really love what you said,” or “I had my daughter read that.”
All my brothers and my dad at one point had dreadlocks. My little nieces have curly hair. And if they were to have someone say something demeaning about what they have and what they hold dear to them, then I would want them to at least have the pride within themselves to come up with a response that made sense and that they were proud of. Honestly, I think about my little nieces and my little nephews first. Because one day they’re going to have Twitter and they’re going to have Instagram, and I’m going to be like, “This is how you handle it, kids.”
Do you actively think about being a role model?
Of course. I think it’s a responsibility, but like Tupac Shakur, I’m a real model. Which means: I’m not pretending to be something that I’m not, because like he said, people are going to be disappointed when they find out who you are, because it’s not going to be what you presented to the world. So just keep it real. I’m a good kid and that’s all.
Whose career would you want to have?
Oprah plus Beyoncé.
That’s a powerhouse.
That’s what I’m saying! Plus Jay Z. No, I’m kidding. But honestly, just because I feel like Oprah has that brand where it’s like, it’s trusted. If Oprah says she likes it, it must be good. She’s a very trusted figure. She’s like, “This is the chai latte to drink; you’re going to drink it.” She says at book club, “This is the book to read,” you read that book.