Often labeled as the “poster child” for Generation Z, the actress, model, and activist drives her creative vision through multiple projects as she becomes the voice of young Hollywood.
So, who is Yara Shahidi?
Yara Shahidi was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to her parents, photographer Afshin Shahidi and actress Keri Salter Shahidi. Her father, Afshin Shahidi, is Iranian, while her mother, Keri Salter Shahidi, is of mixed African American and Native Choctaw heritage. Her first name, Yara, means “someone who is close to your heart” in Persian.
Yara Shahidi also has two younger siblings, actress and model Sayeed Shahidi and brother Ehsan. She is also first cousins with rapper Nas.
How did Yara Shahidi get her start in Hollywood?
In her first cinematic role, she starred alongside Eddie Murphy in the 2009 comedy film Imagine That where she was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film. She also acted in Angelina Jolie’s 2010 action film Salt and played daughter Chloe Johnson in the 2012 family sitcom The First Family.
Yara Shahidi Movies and TV shows: Black-ish (2014-)
Yara Shahidi’s most iconic role is her acting as eldest daughter Zoey Johnson in the ABC sitcom Black-ish. She joins Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, and Marsai Martin as members of the Johnson family. The show is created by Kenya Barris and follows the upper-middle-class African American family as they face personal and sociopolitical issues.
The comedy series has won multiple categories at the NAACP Image Awards and has been nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards since 2015. For her role as Zoey Johnson, Yara won the NAACP Image award in 2015 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and the YoungStars Award at the 2017 BET Awards.
The show’s success created two spinoffs, Grown-ish, which focuses on Yara’s character in college, and a prequel called Mixed-ish, following Tracee Ellis Ross’s character during her adolescence in the 1980s. Yara left the main cast in season three to focus on her spin-off show. Black-ish announced their upcoming eighth season would be their last.
Excited to announce the final season of Blackish! It’s been the best experience and i thank every member of the cast, crew, my family and writers for making growing up on television such an amazing experience. Love you all pic.twitter.com/E35hRbr2HF
— Marcus Scribner (@MarcusScribner) May 14, 2021
You can watch Black-ish on ABC.
Yara Shahidi Movies and TV shows: Grown-ish (2018-)
In this Freeform series, Yara Shahidi’s character, Zoey Johnson, begins her journey through adulthood as she heads off to college. The show, produced by Yara herself, also stars Trevor Jackson, Francia Raisa, Chloe and Halle Bailey, Emily Arlook, Jordan Buhat, and Luke Sabbat.
In an interview with Complex, Yara Shahidi said she’d developed a deep connection with her character Zoey’s growth throughout the three seasons:
“Developing her over the years has been wonderful and even so complicated at times. She has definitely proven that growth is not linear, and it’s not about waking up and making one mistake and then being better for it the next day, but so many times, you do have to go through the messiness of life to be able to finally learn your lessons.”
Grown-ish focuses on issues revolving around relationships, academics, prescription pills, alcohol, and pregnancy. As the seasons have gone on, though, the show has addressed deeper social issues like cultural appropriation, mental health, and the prison industrial complex.
Kenya Barris explained to The Hollywood Reporter how natural it was for Yara Shahidi to move on to the new series:
“There’s just some people who the light shines a little brighter on them in the room, and she’s one of those kinds of people. I met Yara when she was a kid…. I’ve seen her grow up, and I’m so proud of her to see what she’s become on her own, as Yara, and how different she is from Zoey. It showed me what she could do as an actress, how much she could stretch her arms. She puts this show on her back.”
Yara Shahidi Movies and TV shows: Trollhunters (2016-2018) and 3Below (2018-2019)
Yara Shahidi has lent her talents to voice acting, playing the recurring character of classmate Darci Scott on the animated fantasy shows Trollhunters and 3Below. Both are a part of the trilogy series created by Guillermo Del Toro titled Tales of Arcadia.
Trollhunters, starring the late Anton Yelchin and Emile Hirsch, follows a teenage boy tasked with his friends to protect the world from dangerous monsters. Because of its nine Daytime Emmy Award nominations in 2017, the show was followed by two more series: 3Below and Wizards. Yara Shahidi reprised her role of Darci in 3Below, which focused on two royal teen aliens struggling to fit in when they land on Arcadia.
You can watch all three series on Netflix.
Yara Shahidi Movies: Smallfoot (2018)
While Yara Shahidi is most known for her roles in Black-ish and Grown-ish, she’s also had multiple acting credits in films.
In 2018, she joined Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, and Common for the animated film Smallfoot. Based on the children’s book Yeti Tracks by Sergio Pablos, the film follows a group of Yeti who come across a human.
Yara Shahidi also starred alongside Charles Melton in Ry-Russo Young’s 2019 teen drama film The Sun Is Also A Star. Based on the novel by Tracy Oliver, Yara plays a young woman named Natasha living in New York City. She and her family are facing deportation to Jamaica. When she meets Daniel, a first-generation Korean American, the pair falls in love under the pretenses that Natasha will have to leave the U.S. the next day.
When speaking to Shondaland, Yara Shahidi expressed that the film is much more than a love story between two people:
“Ultimately, I’d have to say the entirety of the movie is about love. It’s about not only the obvious romance between Daniel and Natasha but a larger conversation about what happens when there’s a lack of love, a lack of care. And I hope it encourages the audience to broaden their global community and broaden who they view as a part of their community.”
In 2020, she voiced the character of Melanie in the animated science-fiction comedy Fearless and scientist Kendra Wilson in the American-Canadian animated comedy adventure film PAW Patrol: The Movie, set to release in August.
Upcoming Yara Shahidi Movies: Peter Pan & Wendy (2022)
Yara Shahidi has found her pixie dust by playing Tinker Bell for the new Disney film Peter Pan & Wendy. Directed by David Lowery, the movie is a live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan based on the play by J.M. Barrie. The cast includes Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Jude Law, and Jim Gaffigan.
“It’s such a different way of thinking about acting because a lot of it is body movement,” Yara said to Entertainment Tonight about her role. “A lot of it’s, like, how do you convey emotion when you’re a fairy, and it doesn’t say much, so it’s been a beautiful process.”
While we don’t have a trailer for the movie yet, it is set to release on Disney+ in 2022.
We can’t wait to see Yara Shahidi take flight!
Yara Shahidi is balancing acting with Harvard
Like her Grown-ish character Zoey, Yara Shahidi is navigating life as a college student. In 2018, she was accepted to all four universities she applied to, eventually choosing Harvard. One of Yara’s recommendation letters was written by her mentor and Harvard alum, the beloved Michelle Obama, whose daughter, Malia Obama, was also set to attend the school in the fall of 2018.
She planned to defer for a year to focus on her acting career and other projects.
“It’s more than to just roam around or just sit down and stare at a wall, but it will also give me an opportunity to work,” Yara told People. “I’ve been working more than half of my life, and that’s always been balanced with school and all of the other responsibilities, so to have a year to focus on work and to focus on specified interests will be nice before I pick a career and choose what I want to study and my life path.”
Currently, Yara studies African-American history and sociology through virtual classes at Harvard.
Yara Shahidi is also known for her activism, too
Yara Shahidi strives to use her platform for good. She’s responsible for founding Yara’s Club, a partnership with the Young Women’s Leadership Network. The club is a digital meet-up composed of high school students who discuss societal issues, self-improvement, and higher education.
With her passion for feminism, Yara Shahidi is an ambassador for Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign and the non-profit DoSomething.org, inspiring young girls to pursue STEM careers. Wanting to give young people a voice, she started Eighteenx18 with social news publisher NowThis. The platform focuses on encouraging young people to vote, especially during the 2018 midterm elections.
Through her activism, Yara Shahidi received the opportunity to interview Hillary Clinton at the 2017 Teen Vogue Summit. There they discussed the current issues plaguing women today.
In an interview with The Guardian, Yara spoke about the importance of speaking out about important issues, given her status:
“I come from a lineage of entertainers who put their careers on the line to speak about politics. And that’s the only reason I can have this space. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Harry Belafontes and Eartha Kitts, the Sidney Poitiers, and many others who jeopardized their careers and combined their art with their activism. I feel an immense privilege to be able to do the same.”
In 2017, Yara Shahidi was recognized as TIME Magazine’s annual 30 Most Influential Teens because of her television contributions and humanitarianism. She was also selected as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2018.
Yara Shahidi owns her own production company
In 2020, Yara and her mother, Keri Salter Shahidi, signed a deal with ABC studios to launch their own production company, 7th Sun. The company will produce television projects for cable, streaming, and broadcast.
“I think there’s so much expansion to be done,” Yara said in an interview on the Vibe Check podcast. “We definitely have to pay our respects to the amount of creators and creatives out in the world who’ve been doing this work, especially in the past couple of years, of really expanding what we see on television. Being in our ABC deal…we’ve been up and running for over a year now. It’s been exciting to develop shows and be in the process of selling them because the two things that have been really important for us are helping correct under-representation.”
When speaking with Deadline, Kenya Barris expressed his happiness for Yara’s new production company:
“Yara is a force. She is insanely talented, unreasonably smart, and hardworking beyond compare,” said Kenya Barris. “I’ve called her ‘McMogul’ for years, and seeing all that she has accomplished should come as no surprise to anyone that knows her. This deal is just the beginning for Yara, and I’m excited to see where she takes this next chapter and the storyteller she becomes.”
Yara Shahidi makes her mark in the fashion world too
Known for her breakthrough style, Yara recently teamed up with Adidas to create her own five-piece collection. By taking inspiration from her Iranian and Black roots, the collection includes Superstar sneakers, two jackets, and track pants.
She explained the reasoning of the designs to Harper’s Bazaar:
“My first instinct was how do we honor the past in a way that also pays homage to the future. The one thing that I wanted people to take away was even though a lot of these details are specific to my own growing up and the things that impacted me, the entire campaign is about how we recreate our heritage.”
The collection made its launch exclusively in North America on May 13th through select retailers.
Is there anything that Yara Shahidi can’t do?
People love Yara Shahidi
From Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey, celebrities have expressed their love and admiration for Yara Shahidi. When sitting down with Oprah in 2019, the media mogul endorsed Yara Shahidi for president in the future.
“I hope I’m still around when she becomes President of the United States, ” Oprah said. “And that is going to happen – if she wants it to.”
The young star has also gotten praise from fellow actors amidst her growing career.
Zendaya shared her pride for Yara when Grown-ish first aired.
— Zendaya (@Zendaya) January 4, 2018
Kerry Washington sent all her passion to the actress for the premiere of the show.
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) January 3, 2018
Her fans always show their support on social media, congratulating her on a new project.
Yara Shahidi dropping her new Iranian Adidas line in front of Mashti Malone melts my heart pic.twitter.com/LcC4mWpXlK
— Kaveh Taherian (@kavehtaherian) May 13, 2021
Yara Shahidi as Tinker bell is the casting choice that I never knew I needed until now. pic.twitter.com/kmcHL78UKZ
— Julian: into the Julian-Verse | BLM (@cooljulian5) September 25, 2020
What’s next for Yara Shahidi?
Yara Shahidi will enter our TV screens sooner than we think as Grown-ish’s fourth season gears up to premiere this summer. She’ll also be on the big screen next year when Peter Pan & Wendy gets released in 2022.
Until then, we can see her launching her new Adidas line and speaking out about important issues to her.
Through all of her different projects, Yara has to remind herself that not every creative choice she makes will be perfect.
“When I look at my generation, in particular, I feel like many people are just naturally multi-hyphenates. But the one thing that I had to lean in to [in my career] was not feeling any shame around having multiple interests,” she tells Harper’s Bazaar. “Especially in a world in which we all try and be experts. Of course, practice makes perfect, and it’s important to practice whatever your craft is. But oftentimes, I’ve found that drifting into other spaces is also what helped inform other parts of my life.”
Yara Shahidi will only continue breaking barriers in TV, film, activism, and fashion, and we can’t wait to see what her future holds.
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