Film & TV

Zendaya: From Disney to Big-Budget

Photo Credit: Photo by Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock (8992075p) of Zendaya at Variety Portrait Studio, Beautycon Festival Los Angeles, USA - 12 Aug 2017

By Zoe Williamson

Actress, Singer, and Dancer, Zendaya is a woman of many talents and has become a household name in  Hollywood. Known for her smiley and positive personality, she has been taken around the world as a global icon, with a huge fanbase awaiting her every move. But how has she attained the success that she holds today, transforming herself from a Disney actress to an Emmy award winner?

Despite being just 24 years old, the popular icon has been on-screen from a very young age. At just 14 years old, Zendaya rose to fame when she was cast in the Disney Channel show Shake It Up, playing the comical character of Rocky Blue. This would mark the beginning of a long association with Disney, starring in films such as Zapped and Frenemies, as well as 3 seasons of the TV show K.C Undercover, where she also undertook a producing role. Only a teenager at the time, she followed in the footsteps of Disney Channel-originated celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato. However, the path that Zendaya now walks on differs from her forerunners and she is highly praised for her smooth transition into the next chapter of her career, away from her Disney image.

Zendaya quickly became one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. In 2017, she joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring alongside Tom Holland in her role as Michelle, aka MJ, in Spider-Man Homecoming. This was her first big feature film and was certainly a turning point in her career, accelerating her from film to film ever since. Reprising her role in Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019, Zendaya received a lot more screen time in the blockbuster and became part of a highly successful movie that earned over one billion dollars in box office sales. This continued to project her to worldwide audiences and fans were drawn to her character’s admirable qualities – being true to herself and speaking up for what she believes in.

Another milestone in Zendaya’s career was her role as trapeze artist Anne Wheeler in the musical drama The Greatest Showman, starring alongside Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. This role further showcased Zendaya’s talent as a triple threat, with her breath-taking singing, acting, and dancing skills all being displayed throughout the entire film. Still at the early stages into her cinematic career, Zendaya showed global audiences and casting directors alike the variety of skills that she was capable of, which would later secure her future roles.

But perhaps Zendaya’s biggest career change from her Disney past, was her role as Rue in the HBO teen drama series Euphoria. This show contrasts anything she has done before, exploring many hard-hitting themes including drug addiction, mental illness, and abuse. This demonstrates the ambition of the actress in taking more challenging roles, rather than sticking to the child-friendly content that much of her fanbase know her for. The series in turn offered the opportunity for Zendaya to show the world that she can play complex characters with dynamical narratives and be introduced to an older demographic. Moreover, it perhaps signified the end of the young adult being defined simply as a ‘Disney actress’ and instead as a critically acclaimed one, who recently became the youngest winner of the Lead Actress in a Drama Series award at the Emmys.

While Zendaya’s film success can certainly be attributed to her outstanding talent and choice of roles, she has also been recognised for her activism and use of social media platforms to speak out about important issues. Digital media have essentially re-scripted the relationship that celebrities have with their audiences, and with a growing 79 million followers on Instagram, the young adult certainly recognises the responsibility she has to inform her audiences. In turn, she has become a figure of change, fighting against racism and gender inequality, regularly sharing educative resources on her social platforms. This devotion to create conversation with her audience certainly positions her as a positive role model. Moreover, fans have warmed to her bubbly and humorous personality that she often shares on social media too.

From being the Disney teen who wanted to be taken seriously, Zendaya has undoubtedly navigated this potentially challenging path, avoiding the child star ‘destructive’ stereotype. She has become an inspiration to millions of people all around the globe and in turn, this has made her a bankable actress. It is clear that she has taken the cinematic world by storm and with her being set to star in one of the most highly anticipated films currently, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, I strongly believe that this is only the beginning of what will be a spectacular career and I am excited to see what this highly talented actress does next.