Zendaya opens up about her rule-breaking Spider-Man: Homecoming role


In an interview with Marie Claire, Zendaya spoke openly about being a black actress in the industry — including how she pursued roles like the one in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

It would be an understatement to say Zendaya was one of the best scene stealers in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Taking on the role of MJ, Zendaya surpassed our expectations of who we expected her to be (Mary Jane Watson) and transformed the character into something of her own.

But breaking away from the mold of a character many expected to be white was something Zendaya revealed she had to prepare herself for. The former Disney channel star opened up in an interview with Janet Mock for Marie Claire, and was candid about her experiences as a black woman in the entertainment industry.

For any role, even if it isn’t written for a black actress, Zendaya said that she always aims to audition for them anyway. Most times, she doesn’t have a choice (given the scarce number of black-specific roles), and often ends up conforming to fit the idea of who she thinks they want to cast. But for Spider-Man: Homecoming, she found out that experience would a bit different than what she expected.

“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,” she recalled to Mock.

“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.”

In this case, it shows that Sony and Disney were intent on having a diverse cast in Homecoming — and the students at Midtown High actually reflected the immensely diverse population of New York City. Even with other Marvel movies like Black Panther, it shows that the studio is slowly yet surely opening up to making movies that more inclusive than before. The industry as a whole might not be keeping up to these standards, but with headstrong actresses like Zendaya, it’s likely the industry will finally see some long-overdue change in the not-so-distant future.

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Zendaya’s next project will be with the Reese Witherspoon produced movie A White Lie. The movie focuses on the true story of Anita Hemmings (portrayed by Zendaya), a white-passing black woman who tries to get into Vassar during the 1900s. It’s a change from her Disney Channel days of K.C. Undercover, but a role that seems fit for the actress as she continues to flourish in her career as a young actress.