As the eldest daughter on ABC’s “black-ish,” Yara Shahidi is a voice for Generation Z.
Shahidi stopped by the Los Angeles Times on Monday to discuss the range her character, Zoey Johnson, has shown as the family sitcom has taken on some heavy topics in its sophomore season, including the use of the N-word and police brutality; the latter, she said, was the “epitome” of Zoey’s growth.
That episode, “Hope,” started with the family watching the news on TV. The story was about a young black man brutalized by police on video, with an indictment decision pending. As the story unfolds, Zoey expresses her frustrations and fears about the lack of progress society has made.
“She is the voice for Generation Z in that she may not be the person that is super vocal or at the protest, but she is connected through social media or she is connected to the people that are getting hurt,” Shahidi said. “What I really loved is that she had an opinion. Because it’s so easy to say she was off in the corner the whole time, not really caring. But opening the script and seeing she had such a visceral reaction, it was fun to play because it was a more serious side that you haven’t seen from Zoey.”
When she’s not playing Zoey on “black-ish,” she spends her time trying to inspire young women in their academic endeavors. Shahidi, who revealed that she recently had a dream in which AP Calculus was personified, has done work with DoSomething.org, a nonprofit group that helps young people take action on social change, to encourage young women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
“What’s so important about it, more than just taking a class to get great credits, it really helps you with problem-solving and it helps you be a more analytical thinker,” Shahidi said. “What’s so amazing is seeing young girls empowered in STEM fields because there is an overwhelming lack of a female presence. ... I feel like it’s so important that somebody’s love or interest in STEM isn’t squashed by this idea that ‘Well, I’m not a man, this is not appropriate for a woman.’”
Shahidi also spoke of playing a young Olivia Pope in Season 3 of “Scandal” and how Kerry Washington bestowed upon her a crucial piece of advice.
“She said words like, ‘We loved you [in your audition], so please be you.’" Shahidi recalled. “It’s something so beautiful about being authentically yourself in a world in which you are paid to be somebody else.”
To hear more about what Shahidi had to say about her work on “black-ish," watch the full interview:
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