Zendaya's self-awareness and desire to be a positive female role model for her peers has, in fact, imbued even her Disney roles. On her still-running sitcom, K.C. Undercover, Zendaya plays an assertive math genius who has super spies for parents. The show has tackled sexism on more than one occasion:
Earlier this year, Zendaya revealed that the show was originally supposed to be called Super Awesome Katy, and that she not only had a hand in getting the show renamed to something she considered not "wack," she had some very specific ideas for her character, including the name change from Katy to K.C.
“I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t good at singing or acting or dancing," Zendaya told Vogue. "That she wasn’t artistically inclined. 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… I want her to be martial arts–trained. I want her to be able to do everything that a guy can do. I want her to be just as smart as everybody else. I want her to be a brainiac. I want her to be able to think on her feet.”
In the same interview, she stated: "A lot of people don’t realize their power. I have so many friends who say yes to everything or feel like they can’t stand up for themselves in a situation. No. You have the power.”
In a world where pop stars so frequently refuse to engage in the political (Lady Gaga being an obvious exception), and aren't always sure how to stand up for themselves, Zendaya is consistently fearless. What's more, she's proving herself to be an important example that millennials aren't the self-obsessed, entitled narcissists that older generations so frequently accuse them of being.
With her much-praised role in July's Spiderman: Homecoming, Zendaya's prominence in pop culture is sure to increase. And while, inevitably, her industry of choice means she now lives in Los Angeles, her ties to the East Bay and how it has influenced the way she interacts with issues of social justice remain obvious.
“Everything sprung out of Oakland from a hard place," she stated in that aforementioned Vogue interview, "and it turned beautiful.”