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Yara Shahidi, AnOther Magazine S/S17Photography by Ben Toms, Styling by Robbie Spencer

Yara Shahidi: “Together We Can Change the Big Picture”

Jack Sunnucks speaks to the star of Black-ish about implementing change and uniting a generation

Lead ImageYara Shahidi, AnOther Magazine S/S17Photography by Ben Toms, Styling by Robbie Spencer

In celebration of the new generation of actresses determined to leverage their fame for the greater good, Ben Toms and Robbie Spencer’s fashion story, published in AnOther Magazine S/S17, featured young women from Rowan Blanchard to India Menuez; Sophie Kennedy Clark to Maddie Ziegler. Writer Jack Sunnucks spoke to each of these women on set, for a series of interviews running over two weeks exclusively on

At the recent women’s march in Los Angeles, Yara Shahidi took to the stage with her television mother Tracee Ellis Ross and actress Alfre Woodard to rally the crowd. Shahidi and Ross have dominated TV screens recently on Black-ish, the sitcom examining an upper-class African American family, in which she plays daughter Zoey. It’s been lauded by The New Yorker, and even taken the cast to the White House. At 17, Shahidi already has the poise of a woman twice her age, and has quickly become a style icon – in part because she keeps her incredible hair natural. ABC is currently eyeing a potential series centred around Zoey as she goes to college.

Jack Sunnucks: Who is your hero, or someone who inspired you?
Yara Shahidi: I have so many heroes. Of course, I have my lovely parental unit and my family – I say it a lot, but I hit the family jackpot, I’m not kidding. When it comes to people who have inspired and encouraged me to do what I want to do, and given me the resources and tools to grow, I’d have to say James Baldwin.

JS: Is there anyone you’ve worked with who you’ve particularly learned from?
YS: I would have to say Tracee Ellis Ross, who is my current TV mother [on Black-ish]. I’ve been learning with her – and with my own mother – how to use my voice. They’ve taught me the importance of that, even when it’s uncomfortable.

JS: Does the line blur between your real life and your TV family life?
YS: What’s so great is how my TV family is both drastically different and similar to my family. I’m not Zoey; I disagree with Zoey on most things and it’s so wonderful to be able to play this other version of myself, and to feel as though I go on set and teleport into an alternate reality where I have been another character for 17 years. I remember that, during season one, I felt like the scriptwriters were stalking me, because I was like: “You’re taking a storyline from my family. You must have seen that go down at my house the other day, there’s no way you could have written this in the script and not see that go down.” This really just kinda spoke to how universal our experience is, no matter how different we are.

“All great movements started from something really depressing, and we wouldn’t make a great change if there wasn’t a huge problem to fix” – Yara Shahidi

JS: I was wondering what you are hopeful for this year?
YS: Well, what I’ve noticed, at least at the end of 2016 preparing for 2017, is that many people – my peers, my generation – are more united than we have been in a really long time. I feel like everybody is slowly realising that we all have to work collectively to better everyone’s universal experience; it’s really about working together and no longer caring about the little details but realising that together we can change the big picture.

JS: If there was a young person who felt down and needed encouragement, what would you say to them?
YS: Well, I have to say, especially if they are my age… I get it! I think there are lots of times when we just have those days. No matter how small the step is, however, when you start to take action there is this sense of taking control of your situation. And even if it takes 20 people, or ten million people to create the change that we want to see, there is something really empowering about the feeling of “OK, I may not have all of the resources or tools in the world but I’m doing all I can”.

JS: How would you reassure people that 2017 will be better?
YS: I would like to say to my peers that all great movements started from something really depressing and we wouldn’t make a great change if there wasn’t a huge problem to fix.

Hair Marki Shkreli for Marki Hair Care; Make-up Samuel Paul at Forward Artists for Marc Jacobs Beauty; Set design Bryn Bowen at Streeters; Photographic assistants Vincent Perini, Geordy Pearson and Kaleb Marshall; Styling assistants Louise Ford, Johanna Burmester-Andersson, Bonnie Macleod and Sabrina Terlink; Hair assistant Kelly Oliphant.

These photographs originally appeared in AnOther Magazine S/S17.