Fans of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” got to watch Yara Shahidi, the African- and Iranian-American actress who portrays Zoey Johnson, grow from a precocious preteen to a pop culture powerhouse. Along the way, the 18-year-old learned to use her growing public platform to uplift activist causes. Shahidi and some of her “Black-ish” colleagues discussed her transformation in a new profile that Vogue magazine published online today (July 16). 

 

“A teenage girl is usually just projected upon,” Shahidi reflects. “Okay, Zoey may be angsty, and she may be rebellious, she may be on her phone a lot, but [‘Black-ish’ creator Kenya Barris] and the writers really let you see her be a leader within her family, or excel at her job. All of that was through active conversation. Figuring out, okay, how do we stay true to character and not perpetuate stereotypes about what a woman can or cannot be?”

“You might not normally ask a 14-year-old what she thought about police brutality,” she continues, “but because it’s what we were covering on ‘Black-ish,’ the conversation translated to panels and other [public] opportunities.”

Barris notes the evolution of how Shahidi uses her visibility to highlight social justice causes. “After her social media presence began to grow, she began to understand how to use her voice: the things that she talked about and cared about,” Barris says. “I also saw it with the Trump election—how that affected people who looked like her and who didn’t look like her. It was just an amazing time for women’s rights, and she’s been right there on the forefront of it.”

 

 

Read more from the profile at Vogue.com