Reflecting even ten years ago, Hollywood flocked at the concept of a philanthropic starlet. Angelina Jolie in particular was praised for her talents and beauty, while exposing a caring and gracious heart as she adopted several children from impoverished areas around the world. Yes, of course her decision to adopt is amazing considering her position of power. In a world that glamorizes pregnancy and motherhood, it was a power move. However, the power dynamics have shifted. We expect more from celebrities who dare to consider themselves activists, too.
I’m here to share a bit about Yara Shahidi. She is a star on the rise worth following. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Firstly, she was raised in a mixed household. She has an African American mother and an immigrant Persian father. Her father fled Iran right before the revolution, and worked as one of Prince’s photographers. Yara was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and actually grew up speaking Farsi as her first language. Her family eventually moved to California for her father’s work. How wondrous it is to have a celebrity in the public eye who proudly identifies with their Persian/ Middle-Eastern bloodline. For her to be as successful as she is, she has streamlined a pathway for other Middle Eastern and Arab talents to grace the audition and talent spaces of Hollywood. We love to see it!
She is also vocal about her views, but she does so from a place of knowledge. Yara is smart AF. I mean, she is a Harvard student… and Michelle Obama, you know, THE Michelle Obama? She wrote her letter of recommendation. She admits to being an avid reader, and loves history. I respect a young actor who remains grounded and values the importance and privilege of a college education.
She started a voter engagement initiative, Eighteen x 18, to encourage young voters to participate in midterm elections. She donated to Colin Kaepernick’s fund. She supports the Black Lives Matter movement. She even declined the opportunity to shoot for a certain magazine cover because of their lack of diversity. The specific spread was intended to celebrate women in Hollywood and the other talented women she was expected to shoot with were too homogenous for her liking, and seemed to disregard women of color who were also breaking the status quo, shaking things up.
Yara realized that she was the token of diversity in the shoot and it turned her off. She mentions that diversity is more than representation on the screen. It’s about the storylines of those characters, too. The storylines and subplots can be a divisive turning point for an impressionable young viewer. Yara really seems to be practicing what she preaches through her behavior on and off screen. She chooses her roles intentionally (ex. Black-ish, Grown-ish, The Sun is Also a Star). I love that she uses her platform to spark importance conversations, accessible to those she has already impacted.
She is unapologetically honest and dare I say, political, but it comes naturally for her. Yara has admitted that these intense conversations about race and inequality were already happening at home.
Look at her dad tearing up! He helped raise a beautiful, inspiring young woman– one I can be proud to support!
In the age of reality television, Tik Tok and influencer-central, everyone feels entitled to overshare. It can be troubling to witness the overwhelming success of yet another Bachelor in Paradise or autotuned mogul while some of the most underrated, gifted entertainers to exist sit on the sidelines. WHY? It’s refreshing when actors destabilize the concept of normality in Hollywood. There isn’t anything normal about earning $5 million dollars acting in a movie when thousands of others are doing God’s work, and can barely keep a roof over their head. There isn’t anything normal about being a millionaire just to splurge on partying, houses, cars and a $700 plain white tee.
I also love when actors have other interests, especially with respect to their privilege. I consider it another way to undermine the circuit of Hollywood oblivion. While I am never surprised, I’m just disappointed when successful actors lose sense of reality. Celebrate your accomplishments of course, but remember where you came from. Should all Hollywood superstars flood their social medias with political baggage? No, absolutely not. It doesn’t have to mean being politically affiliated, or having a strong social media presence. I just love when affluent, successful people find ways to invest in a better tomorrow. When they quietly donate to charities, highlight small organizations making a large impact, seek guidance from a more experienced partner or mentor to help evoke the change, or remind themselves that their work is insignificant in the greater scheme of things.
In some ways, Yara reminds me of Emma Watson. Emma was a household name after starring in the Harry Potter franchise, but she made sure to devote time to completing her degree at Brown and Oxford University. Afterwards, she became one of the many faces of the feminist movement when she involved herself with the United Nations. She was one of the first creators who reminded me of the impact an influential person can have, even if they are primed as “nonsensical Hollywood actors”. While Yara may not necessarily be within the same ranks as Malala or Michelle Obama, I believe she has an opportunity to be as distinguished and powerful as Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah once told Yara, “Your future is so bright it burns my eyes.” When Oprah compliments you, allow it to wash over you. Just know– she is going places.