K.C. Undercover fans, you can thank Zendaya for making the Disney Channel hit the woke, feminist show you know and love.
In July’s issue of Vogue, the actress revealed that she didn’t sign onto the Disney show (her second one, following the hugely popular Shake It Up) without first putting the TV show execs through the ringer with a list of demands for her character and the show’s premise. If Disney wanted Zendaya to play the-high-school-student-by-day-spy-by-night role, she said they had to promise her character was the real deal, not a watered down, singing-and-dancing girl version. She also demanded to be made a producer on the show — and did we mention she was just 16 at the time?
“I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t good at singing or acting or dancing,” she said. “That she wasn’t artistically inclined. I didn’t want them to all of a sudden be like, ‘Oh, yeah, and then she sings this episode!’ No. She can’t dance; she can’t sing. She can’t do that stuff. There are other things that a girl can be.”
The now-20-year-old also insisted that her character have some serious chops when it came to ass-kicking — just like the boys.
“I want her to be martial arts–trained. I want her to be able to do everything that a guy can do,” she said. “I want her to be just as smart as everybody else. I want her to be a brainiac. I want her to be able to think on her feet. But I also want her to be socially awkward, not a cool kid. I want her to be normal with an extraordinary life.”
And her requests didn’t end there. Zendaya tells Vogue that she also shut down Disney execs who wanted to call the show “Super Awesome Katy” (wow, no) and objected to her character’s name being “Katy.” “Do I look like a Katy to you?” she recalls asking. And last, but not least, she required the show feature a family of color.
And for those who haven’t been following the Disney show for the past two seasons, Zendaya won on all accounts. (So much so that her Vogue interview was delayed because she was busy filming a fight scene for the show where she was “swinging from a chain.”)
And if you needed yet another reason to applaud the actress for her work on Disney, she’s currently working with the show’s writers on an episode of stop-and-frisk, making sure it’s accessible for kids.
But to the self-assured actress — who is known for her activism almost as much as her acting — asking so much of people seemingly more powerful and definitely much older didn’t have her thinking twice.
“A lot of people don’t realize their power,” she explains. “I have so many friends who say yes to everything or feel like they can’t stand up for themselves in a situation. No: You have the power.”
How’s that for your weekly mantra?
Of course, things haven’t always been as easy in Zendaya’s career as that pivotal moment. The actress also spoke about being mixed race in Hollywood and the criticisms she’s faced because of it. In 2014, trolls claimed she wasn’t “black enough” to play Aaliyah in a biopic, and despite pulling out later due to “concerns about its production value” she was still concerned about how to represent herself. She first tried to lean into her Disney-girl vibe, but later backed off.
“Slowly I realized that was stupid. People think I’m cool when I’m Zendaya,” she said.
And that coolness helped land Zendaya a spot in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, where yet again she helped crafted a character she thought young girls would (and should) want to see. According to the film’s director Jon Watts, Zendaya asked that her character Michelle wear no make-up and “carry around her own mug of strange herbal tea.”
To read more about how Zendaya is conquering Hollywood (and the red carpet) pick up the July issue of Vogue, on newsstands June 27.