Back in February, it was nearly impossible to find coverage of the Oscars without running across Zendaya's name. The gorgeous star was the subject of offensive stereotyping by E!'s Fashion Police anchor Giuliana Rancic regarding the dreadlocks she wore to the red carpet. The brilliant young woman made the decision to address the commentary head on, and now, Zendaya is talking about Fashion Police with MTV, specifically her response to Rancic's apology and her desire to educate and encourage others to stand up for themselves.
Since February, Rancic has issued both a twitter apology and an on-air apology. The anchor stands by the idea that her comments about Zendaya smelling of "weed" and "patchouli oil" were not racially motivated. Zendaya, however, understood that while Rancic may have said that, it may not be the whole truth. In her brilliant response to the apologies, Zendaya stated, "Studies have shown that even though we try to act without prejudice, sometimes it’s just hidden inside us due to our past or surroundings."
Well, Zendaya is further illustrating her brilliant insight in an interview with MTV. In the piece, the actress is asked whether or not she was shocked hearing the comments. She responded:
"In any situation in life, you are going to be faced with things that are hurtful or faced with things that you might have to use your voice to stand up for yourself, and I just felt like that was one of those moments...So I pulled myself together, I became that 18-year-old woman and I thought about what my parents had taught me and what they had instilled in me — being educators — and I took my time and crafted something that I felt like was the right way to respond to something like that, while making it something positive, making it something that would educate people.”
The actress' statement made waves when she posted it to her Instagram. Many celebrities came to her defense, including Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne. Zendaya took the controversy and transformed it into an educational experience for an incredibly vast audience: that diverse hair is beautiful and culturally significant, not a tool through which the privileged may make judgements.
Zendaya tells MTV that she was unsure of what others would think of her statement, but that she felt a responsibility to the kids in the world facing ridicule from their peers. She explains “I just wanted that young kid out there that may be getting teased about whatever to know that they have a voice...and they can stand up for themselves, and it’s not OK to say whatever." Though her apprehension was unfounded, Zendaya's decision to speak was brave, and her statements were wise beyond her years.
Zendaya's interview with MTV cements the actress's place as one of Hollywood's brightest. Zendaya's championing for diverse hair reminds me quite a bit of the gorgeous and genius Amandla Stenberg who, early this week, spoke out on the cultural appropriation of Black culture and the ever persistent stereotypes that are reinforced when celebrities don't respect the culture they're appropriating. In a world where Kendall Jenner's braids are called epic and the LA Times names Bo Derek as an example of cornrows becoming a hot hair "trend"—quotations because cornrows are not a trend but a style that been common and popular with black women for ages— it's important that stars like Amandla and Zendaya remind us all that hair is an expression of personhood, not a tool through which to perpetuate racially charged, insensitive stereotypes.