Yara Shahidi doesn’t view school as a fallback plan or a chore to squeeze in between filming. Unlike many child stars, she’s open about prioritizing education above her acting career. Likely inspired by her reported fashion icon, Kerry Washington, Shahidi was recently featured in New York Magazine‘s fall fashion issue.
“I feel like my love for acting hasn’t been singular,” she told New York Magazine, “because it stems from this idea of my love of learning people in general.”
Playing angsty teen princess Zoey Johnson on hit show “Black-Ish,” she is committed to using her platform to challenge Hollywood’s bias against women and people of color. Shahidi, a Black, Native American, and Iranian young woman, is well aware of the challenges she faces as a multiracial actress.
“There are so many roles where you have to fight to even be seen. And it’s insane that you have to say, ‘Hey, people care enough about me to go see a movie starring me. People care enough to see me on the cover of a magazine.’ But you’re not doing me a favor by checking off some diversity box when you cast one person,” she said. “It’s about honestly saying, ‘We’re going to look at everyone as equals and understand the inherent disadvantages that minorities have, because we didn’t all start on the same playing field.’”
She also knows how much influence she has with young women as part of a new era of shows that talk about serious cultural issues in a lighthearted manner.
“My race is a huge part in forming who I am, and it gave me this rich heritage that I am grateful for, but there needs to be an understanding that you cannot then put me in certain boxes, or tell me what I can and cannot do — or what my peers can and cannot do — based on these pieces of identity,” she says thoughtfully.
In June, she powerfully called out Hollywood for its stereotypical narratives while accepting an award for her philanthropy. The second cousin of Nas, whom her mother grew up with, Shahidi seems to have it all figured out. But she would probably disagree.
“As a teenager, I have no clue who I want to be or what I want to do with my life,” she said. “I have an idea, but I’m evolving.”