Beautycon descended upon NYC this weekend and actress Zendaya brought a deep conversation to the beauty space that surpassed highlighter and the latest trends. In conversation with Bozma Saint John, the actress got real about colorism in Hollywood.
When asked by Saint John about diversity in Hollywood, Zendaya leaned back and served Beautycon a sermon they weren’t even prepared for. She said:
“The one thing I have noticed is that sometimes those opportunities aren’t there, so we have to make them. Sometimes if the opportunity isn’t there, we will pave the way for our opportunity. And not just the opportunity for myself, but for my entire community. As a black woman, as a light skin Black woman, it’s important that I say, listen, “I am using my privilege and my platform to show you how much beauty there is in the African-American community.”
It’s been refreshing to watch how Zendaya continues to grow and evolve, both as an artist and as a woman. In 2014, she was heavily criticized over an Aaliyah casting, with fans and followers pointing out the light skin beauty looks nothing like Aaliyah and is definitely not her complexion. She tweeted, “I’m just a 17-year-old girl who got cast to play one of her biggest inspirations.” A week later, it was announced Zendaya had exited the movie and the star didn’t really say much.
But while she may have refrained from commenting on race and colorism back then, she had a lot to say Sunday. Watching her in person, I was impressed with the 21-year-old. And while I find the word, “inspiring,” entirely overused, she was just that.
Nevertheless, many disagreed, and were angered by the bi-racial beauty’s take on the Black female narrative.
I have to say that I looked at some of my mentions, appalled. I understand that yes, it’s privilege in and of itself for her to be able to have this conversation — she will not lose checks and will still be cast in films. Yes, there are dark skin and even brown skin women in Hollywood that do not get opportunities based on their skin color nor will there commentary grow to this level in under 24 hours. But the fact that she’s even having this conversation, on her platform, when it doesn’t even affect her directly, shows growth and commitment.
Reading some of the reactions was proof that, when Willie Lynch created his letter in 1712, teaching White slave owners how they would control Black slaves with skin tone, bragging this method would last for hundreds of years, he was clearly right. And while I’m proud of Zendaya, it’s disappointing that as a half-Black woman, people are questioning whether she even has a right to speak on colorism. Zendaya is Black AND white, not Black OR white. While she may not move through the world like a dark skin woman, her experienced racism and colorism shouldn’t be lessened or even erased because she has less melanin.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that some young stars could learn from Zendaya’s candid comments on race, such as Hollywood “It girl” Yara Shahidi, whose recent comments on colorism missed the mark completely. As my #TeamBeautiful sister Keyaira Kelly wrote, “there is no need to qualify how your privilege is actually not as privilege-y as we think. Just state the issue. Hear the pain.”
So for Zendaya to use her platform at Beautycon, in front of hundreds of young women, to highlight a very real problem to a diverse audience, is commendable. In that moment, I felt that Zendaya, though young, and admittedly saying, “I’m only 21, I don’t know everything,” knew enough to amplify the voices of others in her community. In the words of MLK Jr., “No one is free until we are all free.”