Her father is her bodyguard, and her dazzling success: the Zendaya mystery

Ex-child model of the Disney galaxy, the actress made an impression in the sulphurous series Euphoria. Heroine of the next part of Dunesthe Lancôme ambassador has become the emblem of a generation without going astray.

Zendaya is only 26 years old, but she has already fulfilled several lives. For a whole generation, call them millennials or centennials, girls and boys born between 1995 and 2011, children of social networks and the pandemic, who have only known the world a computerized version, regulated by the image that one gives of oneself and constantly subject to the judgment of others, a generation for which everything is based on performance, Zendaya is something other than an actress.

She is an ideal: an icon. She is also the enigma in the mirror: the one in whom they instantly recognize themselves, but about whom they know very little. That Zendaya lives and which allows him to act out the troubles and struggles of an entire generation caught up in its complexity, we don’t know. It does not spread in declarations on the networks. His interviews are sporadic and hardly suggest anything. In any case, nothing intimate. What animates her inner life, what deeply motivates her career choices, as an actress, as a star (she will be the heroine of Dunes 2 opposite Timothée Chalamet, expected this year) or as a producer, one of the most intelligent and surprising choices in the world of cinema, we have not the slightest suspicion of it.

In video, alongside Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya hypnotizes the Venice Film Festival

Maternal heritage

A few weeks ago, she gave a long interview for Lancôme, of which she is now the ambassador. She praises the sometimes “experimental” character of the Idôle perfume advertising campaign in which she appears (both as an Amazon or as a Statue of Liberty, a bottle in her hands). She does not forget the intimate heritage of a mother and a grandmother who were elegant and whom she “would like to resemble in everything”. What motivates her can be summed up in a few words: “Proposing something new, new ideas.”

She herself does not hide from suggesting lines of thought to the brand. Playing the only fashion plates is clearly not his cup of tea. She is today, and it is rare, co-producer of most of the series and films in which she appears. Its investment in the projects is of the order of the total.

No, honestly, secrets, I don’t have any


The rest of the interview is opaque: she delivers crumbs of clues: yes, she has been a vegetarian “since the age of 11” – “a decision made after learning where the meat came from”. She lets it be understood that “joy” alone occupies her. Joy ? Yes, at least that’s the name she gives to the feeling of power against all odds that the piece gave her Savage Remix, by Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion, when she discovered it when it was released in April 2020, in the midst of Covid petrification and while the whole world was living in quarantine. Maybe it all goes back further. Perhaps to childhood, to an upbringing where his parents taught him “to be confident and have a strong sense of independence.” “It’s not nothing, she adds, when you start a career so young, as a child, because then no one in your school looks like you, you have no one to compare yourself to: you discover that you you are not like the others: you are just yourself.” His mantra? “Be a good person.” Secrets ? “No, frankly, secrets, I don’t have any.”

The unconscious of a whole generation

Zendaya doesn’t want to just be a star, she’s aiming for something else the century has yet to name. A consciousness ? The word brings with it political commitments – one immediately thinks of a humanitarian use of celebrity, and that is not what it is about. Even if she has made the representation of African-American women her cause, and she works there better than anyone, and is committed to associations…

No, it would rather be an unconscious: to be like the unconscious of an entire generation. Which admires him, but as a perpetually stolen object, à la Garbo. Zendaya plays and jealously guards her boundary with the intimate. It’s almost a miracle when you’re 25 and have a career that questions notions of virality, and you carry an already cult series on your shoulders, in just two seasons, Euphoria which says exactly everything that a 17-18 year old teenager goes through in today’s world: his inability to preserve a part of himself that is not given over to others.

On video, Euphoria : the teaser

What Zendaya Coleman is doing in Euphoria is of the order of the unprecedented. She is this body, this face, against which psychology, good resolutions have no hold. She is not, however, a victim. She is a sort of everyday warrior, an everyday teenager in a world surrounded by far too adult temptations. Contact with pornography is permanent there. Drugs are so present that if Rue – her character – manages one day, around 19, to get out of it, she can say she has come a long way. The world of teensEuphoria is scary because it’s big and wide like a cell phone screen. And human relations are redeemable there. All except love which, he, in Euphoria, is Shakespearean, sublime. It is about beings that Rue idealizes as angels. Half-boy, half-girl creatures metamorphosing like a butterfly in a song of Rosalia (which is Zendaya’s equivalent in the hyperpop world): “Eh yo soy mía, yo me transformo / Una mariposa, yo me transformo / Drag queen makeup, yo me transformo / Me contradigo, yo me transformo.”(I am totally me, I transform. A butterfly, I transform. Drag queen makeup, I transform. I contradict myself, I transform.) It sounds like the lyrics of this piece by Rosalía (in Saoko ) written for her: you only have to look back at the first lives of Zendaya, who has already had at least three, to feel dizzy.

Disney product

The Oakland child born in September 1996, of Zimbabwean origin, daughter of a theater teacher and a sports teacher who has since become his bodyguard and manager, therefore started as a child. By dancing. By acting. Then it became this weird thing that only exists in the United States: a Disney product. A child star who provides every day, in series, in hits of a season, unequivocal good feelings. A smooth and ideal product. A perfect build. See them again today, in the light ofEuphoria, has something ironic about it. In shake it up(series launched in 2010, when Zendaya was only 14 years old), they were two kids born to dance: there was Raquel Blue and CeCe Jones. Raquel was the good student, and CeCe the rebel. Zendaya played Raquel, Bella Thorne CeCe. In three seasons, they had become the new Selena Gomez and, in the last episode of season 3, Raquel sang a farewell song with a strange title: Remember Me. Do not forget me. As if, at 16, she was already wondering how to survive on her own. She turns into a secret agent in 2015 in a nice series, Agent KC , from the pure Disney Channel, where she is once a sort of contest beast, her parents’ favorite child and a secret agent for the US government. It’s Fantômette and James Bond at the same time – as if being the household genius wasn’t enough. She does karate and wonders every day how to protect the world. When she came out of that bubble, there she was in a supporting role in the franchise Spiderman,where she meets her future boyfriend , Tom Holland.

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Alexandre Vauthier suit, Aisling Camps top, Jennifer Fisher hoop earrings. Micaiah Carter for Lancome

But it’s his mind-blowing appearance one day in June 2019 in the first episode ofEuphoria which atomizes in a few seconds a career of already ten years to play the model child. This time, Zendaya will not be a smiling puppet. She lost her Disney license a long time ago, this certificate of innocence in the tart world of young and already commercial culture. Rue will not be an American Martine. What we know of Rue, we learned too quickly, colliding with the first minutes of the series: under a blue light, liquid and asphyxiating, similar to that of a club in which one would enter under anesthesia, Rue tells her only friend (incidentally her dealer) about the overdose that struck her down during the summer: “After each inspiration, we expel all of her oxygen. Everything freezes. The heart, the lungs, and finally the brain. Sensations, desires, everything you want to forget… Everything is swallowed up…” Rue, 17, having come back from this swallowing up, contemplates the world of adolescence: it looks like a big pitiless video game in which Rue plays his party, solo, face closed, impassive, or on the contrary seized with tugging, nervous tics. Either she is too controlling or she is overwhelmed. Zendaya has the art of telling Rue through her disintegration.

The hard skin of teenagers

Where does this fear of danger come from that crosses us when we look at it in Euphoria ? Probably becauseEuphoria shows a raw girl in a world where secrets no longer exist. In Sam Levinson’s series, the 2022 notion of intimacy has nothing to do with the one we knew. Euphoria describes an intimacy similar to that of the content sharing platform OnlyFans: an area that is in principle closed, but access to which (paying, symbolically) is synonymous in return with a total stripping bare, advertising. life in Euphoria only makes sense if you’ve come close to overdosing and you feel the courage to come back.

Overdose and survival: that’s all there is to it. At the antipodes of the enchanted world of Disney, Zendaya puts on the armor of a generation summoned to go far in order to be able to begin the slow work of assuming. His wanderings, his impulses, his desires, his weight, his physique, his color, his gender which was never necessarily the one registered on the papers issued at birth. Exaggerate his chances of having a “destiny”. Exploring self-hatred. Defy the shame, the pain, assume the devastation. To live up to your own disasters. To live up to the false image that one has given of oneself on the networks. Living up to the widespread surveillance that Instagram brings. But above all, live up to your own assertion. To live up to what is called one’s identity. Euphoria, who doesn’t care about actions, has only one subject: the skin of adolescents, their tough skin.

Zendaya took all the risks to dare to embody Rue. It could have closed all the doors to him. “Burn it up” as they say in the trade. It was the reverse. Because Zendaya understood before anyone else that teenagers in the 2020s no longer want to be lied to by selling them a candid and cute world. They constantly take refuge in childhood, in totems, fetishes, but then to better face the outside, this reality that they know is implacable. They didn’t need a Agent KCmoreover, but of a stubborn girl who would embody a minority voice that never breaks. Zendaya makes us feel old. We watch it as we approach the core of a melting nuclear reactor. Dazed, asking the only worthwhile question: “What happened?”

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Her father is her bodyguard, and her dazzling success: the Zendaya mystery

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