When Shake It Up! ended in 2013, Zendaya was well on her way to becoming one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars. Until then, her career had followed the standard trajectory of Disney Channel stars like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato: Land a leading role, build a massive fan base, and begin a blossoming music career.
But Zendaya decided to take a different direction. Instead of ditching her mouse ears when Shake It Up! wrapped, she decided to join a second Disney Channel series, K.C. Undercover. Her condition? She had to be a producer.
As a producer, she wanted — and demanded — a badass female protagonist. That’s how she ended up starring as K.C. Cooper, a brainy high-schooler who was born into a family of spies. Casual.
“When I left Disney, there weren’t any families of color on the channel,” she told Variety in a recent interview. “I thought that was a big reason why I wanted to come back. I think I’ve successfully made a show that not only allows for representation but sees girls in a powerful and strong position.”
She told the magazine she had similar concerns about diverse representation while auditioning for Spider-Man: Homecoming. To her surprise, she landed the part of Michelle, catapulting her acting career to new heights.
“A lot of time, the thought process of an actor of color is, I’m going to go and give it my best shot, but they are probably not going to go with an actor of color for this,” Zendaya explained. “We all think it. I didn’t know they were going to switch up the characters and really cast the best people for the roles, instead of what’s most like the comic book. I think that was the coolest part for me, knowing they embraced the diversity.”
Her fans could say the same about K.C. Undercover.