Yara Shahidi on Black-Ish legacy and Peter Pan & Wendy role with Net-A-Porter

Best known for her breakout role in Black-Ish, actor, activist and all-round Hollywood force Yara Shahidi talks to Porter about broadening her horizons, the rewarding legacy of Black-Ish, and why her next role in Peter Pan & Wendy has truly given her wings

Photo: Kate McCurdy/Porter/Net-A-Porter

For nearly a decade, Yara Shahidi has been widely known as Zoey Johnson, her breakout part as the cool older daughter in ABC’s hit sitcom Black-ish – which later spawned the Freeform spin-off series Grown-ish, following Zoey’s journey through college. As of last year, however, both Shahidi and her character reached a similar seminal moment when they put their caps and gowns on and graduated.

Shahidi has often hoped she would one day find herself in a fairy tale. “I’ve always wanted to get into the world of fantasy. As an actor, it is a fun challenge to find a way to make something still feel real when nothing around you is real.”

Photo: Kate McCurdy/Porter/Net-A-Porter

She is taking on the character of Tinker Bell in the forthcoming Peter Pan & Wendy, the latest in a long line of Peter Pan adaptations and live-action remakes. The role is just one on a thrilling roster of projects on Shahidi’s slate, as her career enters a new phase. “I’m excited to find roles that just expand from – and put me in a different space than – Grown-ish. I’ve had so much fun as Zoey that I’m, like, there’s no need to recreate that experience.”

Part of broadening her resumé includes creating 7th Sun Productions, the production company she runs alongside her mother, Keri. “Our content is unabashedly about this experience we have as Black folks – and it is about not the trauma that we carry, but our day-to-day life and being able to see us on screen in the plethora of ways we know we exist in the world.”

Photo: Kate McCurdy/Porter/Net-A-Porter

Shahidi reflects on the impact of Black-ish in a media landscape that has been shifting since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement – looking to what it could mean for the future of representation on screen. “The legacy of Black-ish that I personally like the most is the butterfly effect of opportunity; where every writer went and where the other producers went, and how then we ended up getting to have both shows [Black-ish and Grown-ish],” she says.

“They were head-on tackling what’s happening in the news, tackling these different perspectives of what it is to be a family that carries this racial identity, that carries this culture, that’s trying to figure out what this culture means for all of them individually. So that is what I’m most proud of, because we get to exist in a world… where [now] we turn on the TV and look at different parts of our experience.”

Photo: Kate McCurdy/Porter/Net-A-Porter

Another forthcoming project is Extrapolations for Apple TV+, in which she appears alongside a star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep, Gemma Chan and Forest Whitaker. It’s an anthology series of interconnected stories, exploring the topic of climate change. “My character is representative of a lot of the youth climate action. She’s a cool touchpoint to reflect all of this incredible youth activism.”

Activism is a label that Shahidi is intimately familiar with. She has long used her platform to speak out on global issues, and particularly causes that relate to her identity as a Black-Iranian person. Her views of herself as an activist have evolved since she first rose to prominence.

“I’ve always used the very clunky term ‘socially engaged human’, because I have friends who are grassroots activists and I know what that work looks like,” she says. “I’m trying to work in tandem and in parallel to those efforts that are happening in real life, but would I classify it as the same thing, me going to set and somebody organizing a movement? Not necessarily.”

This is an excerpt from Porter’s cover feature. To see the full interview read Porter.

Also see: Shailene Woodley on her upcoming role in Three Women with Net-A-Porter

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