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Zendaya in Movies: From Disney Darling to Hollywood Powerhouse

At just 26 years old, Zendaya is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.

Known for her movie and TV roles, she’s described by GQ as “a mononymous fashion icon and the busiest young star in Hollywood,” the model turned Disney channel star turned musician turned Emmy-award-winning actress already has an impressive resume.

So, who is Zendaya?

Zendaya’s full name is Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman. Her name is based on a word that means “give thanks.” Early in her career, she decided to go simply by Zendaya because she thought it sounded cool. Zendaya’s parents are both teachers and she considers her mom her greatest role model.

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Who is Zendaya dating?

That’s a question that Zendaya wishes you wouldn’t ask her. If Zendaya has a boyfriend and wants us to know, she’ll tell us. We should all respect that, right? The argument that “she chose to be in the spotlight so she should share her entire life with us” is dated. This is 2021 Hollywood — part of why we no longer publish paparazzi photos on Hollywood.com.

Zendaya got her start on Disney Channel

Zendaya’s first big role was in 2010 at just 13 starring in the Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up as Rocky Blue, a background dancer for a local Chicago show alongside best friend CeCe Jones (played by Bella Thorne). The show ran for three seasons.

In 2015, we saw her take the lead in a new Disney Channel sitcom K.C. Undercover, where she plays a high school math genius who also happens to be a government spy. With this show, Zendaya got to take an active creative role in the show’s process as an executive producer.

“I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t good at singing or acting or dancing. That she wasn’t artistically inclined,” she recalled in a 2017 interview with Vogue. “I didn’t want them to all of a sudden be like, ‘Oh, yeah, and then she sings this episode!’ No. She can’t dance; she can’t sing. She can’t do that stuff. There are other things that a girl can be.”

So, what happens after two successful Disney shows?

“Having a Disney past sometimes makes it difficult for people to take you seriously,” Zendaya says when Yara Shahidi asks her what she plans to do next during a November 2017 interview for Glamour. “I have to pick the right projects, make sure I do the right things, take my time. And then I want to produce and create shows and movies, whether or not I’m starring in them.”

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Reading this quote years later is pretty incredible considering how much she has accomplished!

Zendaya movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Zendaya went from Disney to Marvel to take on the role of Michelle, better known as “MJ,” in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Considered to be her breakthrough role and her first feature-length Hollywood movie, Zendaya was the first Black actress to play MJ —even though her role was not the love interest obsessed with Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) as seen in the past Spider-Man movies.

While the actress admits she wasn’t into comic books growing up, Zendaya saw Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie in theatres on her first date! “I was obsessed with it immediately,” she told Good Morning America in June 2017. “(I) always kind of related to Spider-Man because, to me, he’s a real person. He’s not just a superhero all the time, he is at the end of the day Peter Parker, who is a 15-year-old kid, which we can all relate to.”

“We’ve all been that awkward teenager and had that time in our life,” she continued. “Everybody has. So I think he was always like the realest superhero. He was tangible to people. It just happened that that was my first date and here we are now. It’s crazy.”

Hollywood Reporter described Zendaya as a “scene stealer” and the movie was both a critical and commercial success.

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“Seemingly effortless perfection” feels like the perfect description of Zendaya’s acting chops

Buy or rent Spider-Man: Homecoming on Amazon.

Zendaya movies: The Greatest Showman (2018)

Then came The Greatest Showman, where Zendaya proved that she can sing, dance, act, and do her own stunts.

“She blew me away,” director Michael Gracey told Vogue. “I would shout out a direction or give the slightest adjustment, and while flying through the air, she’d do it.”

Zendaya absolutely killed it as Anne Wheeler, an acrobat and trapeze artist alongside Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum and fellow Disney alum Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle. 

Zendaya and Zac Efron’s “Rewrite The Stars” is a favorite from the movie soundtrack, which won the GRAMMY for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media (one of many awards won for the film). Zendaya herself won Favorite Movie Actress in the Kids’ Choice Awards and Choice Drama Movie Actress in the Teen Choice Awards.

“This is only my second film, so you could imagine the nerves but it was a magical night,” Zendaya shared in an Instagram post following the movie premiere.

After another successful feature-length film, Zendaya was starting to think of what to do next. Hugh Jackman gave her some advice while on set.

“I was trying to figure out what project to do next, and he told me don’t do it if it doesn’t make you happy,” says Zendaya, Variety reported in 2017. “You have to make your own decisions. Don’t listen to other people. Just trust your gut.”

Watch The Greatest Showman on Disney+.

Trusting her gut led to Euphoria

It’s a good thing Zendaya trusted her gut because it brought us Euphoria, where Zendaya stuns as Rue Bennett, a far stray from her wholesome Disney characters.

The show, created by Sam Levinson, was inspired by his personal life experiences. He actually had Zendaya on his mood board for the show.

“I fell in love with who Rue was,” Zendaya recalls to PAPER Magazine. “It felt special because I don’t like to read scripts, and for me to read through it faster than anything I’ve ever read before, obviously I connected with it somehow.”

Euphoria didn’t just connect with Zendaya; it connected with viewers and critics alike. Indiewire described her as “exceptional at every turn” and Hollywood Reporter said she was “an absolute revelation.”

Zendaya’s authenticity and dedication to playing Rue were obvious to everyone who watched.

“I just feel like to be able to tell those stories. It felt like something special as I was doing it, and I am grateful that people have been able to connect to it the way they have,” she says later in a conversation with Entertainment Tonight at the 2020 Critics’ Choice Awards.

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“I’m so grateful for this show. For the beautiful family, I’ve gained from it, for the self-discovery and purpose I’ve found in it, and the people that we’ve been able to connect with and speak to through it,” Zendaya remarks in an Instagram post before the premiere of Euphoria’s finale. “We spent months, hard months, pouring ourselves into something we love, and it was an honor to have done so beside so many insanely talented, extraordinary people.”

In 2020, Zendaya won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, making history as the youngest winner ever in the category. In her speech, acknowledging the dark subject matter of the show, she said, “There is hope for young people.”

“At this moment in time, it is hard to find joy and beauty in things, and I really think that is important, Zendaya says in a later interview with Timothée Chalamet for ELLE. “Right now, we as Black people need to embrace joy and not let it be taken away from us.”