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Zendaya Talks Race, Natural Hair and Shonda Rhimes in ‘Complex Magazine’

We can’t think of a better pick for Complex Magazine‘s “Woman of Next Year” than Zendaya Coleman. While most Disney stars succumb to tabloid drama, Zendaya remains above the fray. She handles social media critics with wisdom and grace, she speaks thoughtfully about issues affecting race, gender and class, and she’s a triple threat talent to boot. Though it’s tempting to call her a role model, Zendaya doesn’t enjoy the term or the undue pressure that accompanies it. She prefers the Tupac-coined phrase “real model,” which speaks to inspiring others by simply being yourself. Her interview with Complex Magazine finds her doing just that. The shoe designer is playful yet wise beyond her years as she navigates difficult questions about race, self-esteem and the pitfalls of being a child star.

Check out excerpts from her interview below:

On forging an identity as a biracial teen:

“You get the best and the worst of both worlds. I know there were a lot of times when you try to figure out where you fit in. I just realized that it worked to my advantage because I just got along with a lot of people. But to literally be two races, it’s really hard to see color because I’m the gray area. I had to learn about both sides of myself and be really proud of and educated in both. I think that’s why I’m comfortable with myself and can speak on certain issues because I’ve taken the time, or my parents have taken the time, to teach me who I am.”

[ See: 10 Times Zendaya Coleman Killed the Red Carpet ]

On the response to her unfortunate encounter with Giuliana Rancic:

“[It’s been] only positive. It was a learning experience for myself and for everyone who read it. A lot of people don’t realize that hair is a big thing for a lot of people, not just African-American women. It’s something to be aware of and to be cautious of. So it was something that I really felt like I should speak on. There were so many women, of all races, that came up to me and were like, ‘I really love what you said,’ or ‘I had my daughter read that.’ All my brothers and my dad at one point had dreadlocks. My little nieces have curly hair. And if they were to have someone say something demeaning about what they have and what they hold dear to them, then I would want them to at least have the pride within themselves to come up with a response that made sense and that they were proud of. Honestly, I think about my little nieces and my little nephews first. Because one day they’re going to have Twitter and they’re going to have Instagram, and I’m going to be like, ‘This is how you handle it, kids.’

On how she spends her down time:

“You see that computer over there? As soon as you leave, I’ll go on my bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy. Anything Shonda Rhimes does is gold. I order food and just chill. Because that’s an occasion for me. Chilling is like, whoa.”

On the area in entertainment she’d like to explore:

“I can’t wait to do movies. That’s something I really, really want to do. Or at least on Scandal. Hey, Shonda. What’s up, Shons?”

On the problems that befall other Disney alums:

“I think again it’s that real model, role model thing. A lot of them were forced into being role models and they had to pretend to be something that they didn’t feel matched up with who they were. And that’s because they started really, really young. So you’ve got to realize when you’re really young you don’t know who you are yet. And as soon as you figure it out, you’ve already been forced to become something that you didn’t really know you signed up for. So it’s like, I get it. There’s a lot of pressure, so I completely understand. Everyone has their different ways of learning and growing and finding out who they are, and you can’t fault people for that. Again, I think with all the prior Disney stars, at least you can say they are themselves now.”

Read the full interview here.