Movie, TV, and fashion star Zendaya is reflecting on one of the first big moments when she used her voice to create change.
Let’s rewind to the 2015 Academy Awards, when a then teenage Zendaya, still a Disney star on the rise, wore her hair in locs on the red carpet. The gorgeous look inspired a catty, ignorant comment from Fashion Police commentator Giuliana Rancic—“I feel like she smells like patchouli oil…and weed”—which went viral.
Zendaya immediately spoke up about this, posting a statement to Instagram. “To say that an 18-year-old young woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or ‘weed’ is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive,” she wrote. “I don’t usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked.”
Rancic tried to backpedal with a tweet, and then gave a longer apology on the air.
But the moment became far bigger than the red carpet: Zendaya became a voice of her generation. Mattel created a Barbie in her likeness, wearing the gown and locs she’d rocked at the Oscars. With her statement, the now 24-year-old superstar made so many women and girls feel seen.
These days Zendaya is leading massive movie franchises like Spider-Man and critical hits like Netflix’s Malcolm & Marie, plus winning Emmys for game-changing roles on HBO dramas. In an interview with W magazine, she looks back on that moment after the 2015 Oscars. “That’s how change happens,” she says.
It wasn’t just Giuliana Rancic who learned an important lesson that night. It inspired Zendaya to keep speaking up and using her platform for good, specifically in regard to racial issues and representation. She tells W, “It made me think, How could I always have a lasting impact on what people saw and associated with people of color?”
It’s an important standard she’s set for herself and continues to achieve. We couldn’t love her more for it.