If this month of magazine covers were a song, it would be Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” the only acceptable version of “September” – not the Taylor Swift one, NEVER the Taylor Swift one. So many of the September Issues of the biggest magazines feature black women that Black Twitter has dubbed it Soul September. Cue: “Ba dee ya, dancing in September…”

Issa Rae is holding it down on Ebony. Lupita Nyong’o is on Porter. Tiffany Haddish is on Glamour. Tracee Ellis Ross covers ELLE Canada. Rihanna is on British Vogue and of course, there’s The Beyoncé Issue of American Vogue. Also Zendaya on Marie Claire interviewed by Janet Mock. 

Our souls were singing…

ZENDAYA x JANET MOCK!!! I couldn’t wait to read this feature and my girls did not disappoint.
By the second paragraph of Janet’s Zendaya feature, I had definitive proof that Janet Mock and I could be best friends. She and I have the same favourite Zendaya video. It’s when Zendaya expertly broke down the difference between extensions, weaves and wigs. Janet uses her love of this video to segue into how Zendaya has “a deep sense of duty to explain and educate” and she did so when Giuliana Rancic mocked her hair on the Oscar red carpet. Zendaya read Giuliana for filth for her dumbass comments and effectively became a role model and a powerful voice for young black women. 

Janet Mock notes that Giuliana Rancic’s foolery is Zendaya’s only controversy. She puts it like this:

For a former child star who has been on TV since she was 14, the fact that she has managed not to screw up in public or rebel against her squeaky-clean Disney persona is a miracle. 

Is it a miracle or a necessity? What’s interesting to me about this observation is that Zendaya doesn’t have the luxury of screwing up her “squeaky-clean” image and she knows it. 

“What my white peers would be able to get away with at this point in their career is not something that I will be able to do. And I knew that from when I was real young. That’s just the truth, and so you’ll be kind of afraid of making mistakes because I love what I do. I don’t want to jeopardize it at any point because I am not allowed the room to mess up.”

If Zendaya was out in these streets acting like Bella Thorne, do you think she’d still have a career? Zendaya may have to live up to expectations that her white peers don’t but there’s also a privilege that comes with looking like Zendaya. Janet brings up Yara Shahidi and Amandla Stenberg, two young black actresses who are Zendaya’s peers and the ones she probably competes with the most for roles. They are the most successful black actresses in young Hollywood. 

“What is important to me is knowing we are not the only black girls in the industry. We kind of have been painted as the face, and that’s not the truth. It’s important to have a conversation where we are opening the door to our peers and more black women who don’t necessarily look like us.”

I’ve written about colourism a few times. Every time, I point out that it’s a systemic problem in the entertainment industry - in casting rooms and at the executive level which then translates on screen. Yara, Amandla and Zendaya are talented actresses who deserve their success but they also look the way that Hollywood has deemed is an acceptable way for black women to look. One of my favourite things about Zendaya, other than her wig game, is that she acknowledges her light-skinned privilege and talks about it often. Constantly. She’s using her privilege to expose an uncomfortable truth in her industry, one that she has benefitted from. What other 21-year-old is talking about this sh-t at all let alone with such intelligence and grace? Some of her peers could learn from her candor and self-awareness. Ahem, Alexandra Shipp

Zendaya also mentions her upcoming project with Reese Witherspoon’s production company where she will play Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to graduate from Vassar College. Zendaya will be starring in and producing it. I’ll leave you with what Zendaya says she learned from working with Reese and her all-female production team. They have inspired Zendaya to have her own production company one day so that she can use her power and influence to make her industry better.

“Sometimes we have to create our own lane and our own opportunities when they’re not handed to us.”

SHE’S 21. How is she already ALL OF THIS at 21? Zendaya turns 22 on September 1st. 

Ba dee ya, dancing in September
Ba dee ya, golden dreams were shiny days

Click here for more Zendaya x Janet Mock in the September issue of Marie Claire.