YARA SHAHIDI: ‘BROWN FACES ARE BANKABLE’
September 17, 2018
Do not sleep on Yara Shahidi, actress and creative force who has received glowing endorsements from our dream presidential ticket, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. The Harvard University freshman blew onto radars when, aged 14, she landed the role of eldest daughter Zoey on the ABC sitcom, Black-ish. The show has since broken barriers, earned awards and spawned the equally groundbreaking spin-off, Grown-ish, with a storyline about Shahidi’s character exploring college, as well as the highs and lows of growing up.
Shahidi spent her formative years in Los Angeles, raised by a Black mother who is an actress with an MBA, and an Iranian father who studied physics and served as Prince’s personal photographer. Kerri Salter Shahidi and Afshin Shahidi raised Yara and younger brother Ehsan with a sense of freedom and duality that allowed them to approach their respective passions with fervor and intelligence, urging their children to, in Yara’s words, “do what you love and figure out how to monetize it,” per her interview in Business of Fashion.
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Yara has taken those lessons to heart, gracefully balancing her schooling and her shooting schedule with front-row appearances at fashion shows, speaking engagements, and serving as a brand ambassador for the likes of American Eagle-owned label Aerie, Chanel, and, most recently, Tory Burch. The actress is also set to start filming a slate of 20 new episodes of Grown-ish this month, which is also her first semester at Harvard. The girl is booked, busy and working at a level that depicts her crystal-clear awareness of her value in this current media climate. Yara knows the power of her face, but she is also tapped into the power of the brown face, exhibited by the roster of Black women dominating the covers of fashion’s most noteworthy month.
“We have to prove that brown faces are bankable and worth seeing because ultimately everything is driven by money,” she says. “For brands and magazines, the goal for so long was to be aspirational: marketing the American dream, the white picket fence. But you can no longer tell people what they should aspire to be without actually creating a way for them to get there. It’s now about being inspired. It’s now about being able to see yourself.” – Business of Fashion
No one can know whether the current shift in fashion is a phase or a movement, but figures like Yara represent a generation that “wields significant buying power in the US alone,” according to Business of Fashion. Digital agency Barkley reports that Generation Z is “currently accounting for up to $143 billion in direct spending and on track to become the largest group of consumers by 2020.” Shahidi recognizes this youthful buying power, and is expertly establishing herself as a valuable figure at the new dawn of consumerism. She is seeing the power of the brown face—specifically, her brown face—and exploring how meaningful change can be generated from this melanin-rich time in the culture.
“We look at the magazines placed in front of us, we look at the ads placed in front of us, the people in those ads and magazines. And that is a very real moment and opportunity to represent so many people. But I think the only way that authentically happens is if you go behind the scenes and you look at the editors, the interns, the people who were given the opportunities… Beyoncé being on the cover of Vogue is absolutely incredible, but I feel like what made double the impact is knowing Tyler Mitchell shot it.” — Business of Fashion
This girl is the future of Hollywood, and that is a future, we can definitely buy into.