Yara Shahidi Talks Gen Z Identity, Racism + 'The Sun Is Also a Star' With Porter Magazine

Yara-Shahidi-Cass-Bird-Porter-Magazine-Summer-2019- (4).jpeg

Former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote her letter of recommendation to Harvard. Oprah Winfrey herself responded to a question about what gives her hope, saying “Yara Shahidi, of course. I hope I’m still around when she becomes President of the United States.”

‘Black-ish’ and ‘Grown-ish’ star Yara Shahidi has been inspired to use her profile for good by social influencers like Beyoncé, Margaret Atwood and Tina Tchen, powerful women who use their status to "inform politics through cultural ways". She extends her public narrative, covering the Summer 2019 issue of Porter Magazine, lensed by Cass Bird, with styling by Elissa Santisi.

AOC previews Shahidi’s Porter Magazine editorial and key points from Yara’s interview with Lucy Walker.

The star’s eloquence and poise are “astounding” writes Walker, probably the result of her upbringing by parents who always asked for her opinion, while engaging in big topics at the dinner table. Now 19, the actor activist heard a singular message when growing up: there was absolutely nothing that she couldn’t do.

Yara-Shahidi-Cass-Bird-Porter-Magazine-Summer-2019- (3).jpeg

The 19-year-old Minnesota child-LA raised actor - daughter of an Iranian American father and African American mother - thinks being mixed race has given her a unique perspective on racism in America. For all her brilliant success, Yara has faced prejudice on multiple fronts.

Referencing President Trump's so-called Muslim ban executive order - Yara said: "It's a unique perspective, being black and Iranian, and coming from two persecuted peoples. On one side of my family is the list of people who can't enter the US from certain countries and on the other side are those who are familiar with what it's like being black in America."

Yara-Shahidi-Cass-Bird-Porter-Magazine-Summer-2019- (1).jpeg

Using Fame For Civic Education + Engagement

The 'Black-ish' star is passionate about using her fame as an actress to educate her fans to the work she does in terms of voting, registration and civil engagement. The ability to have her day job as an actor, while also connecting deeply with the work that she wants to do in terms of voting, registration and civil engagement for her generation inspires her 100-hour work/study week. Not at all clear that she wants a future in politics, Yara cites being political through cultural ways as equally important to elected office. Yara’s investment isn’t so much in political ideology, as in human beings.

Many of those Generation Z human beings view the star as their voice. Yet her desire is to be seen as just the opposite among young people who reject labels, seeking instead autonomy over themselves. ‘This is how I identify. And I should have the right to live freely.’ Even just looking at my friendship groups, I see the spectrum of sexuality, gender identity, immigration status, being the first person in the family to go to college. I feel like there’s a variation now that you can’t deny. And as that expands with our generation, there will come a very natural point at which you can look at the world and say, ‘That’s why I believe all these other people deserve similar rights.’”

Yara-Shahidi-Cass-Bird-Porter-Magazine-Summer-2019- (2).jpeg

Her own references are well-chosen, “meticulously on-message and enthusiastically delivered”. They include model and trans activist Hunter Schafer, who like Shahidi is 19 and one of Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21”; journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas; artist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Patrisse Cullors, as well as Cullors’ activist partner Janaya Khan – names with the power to chip away at American culture’s racial imbalance, while shedding a light to a multitude of deserving human beings.

Shahidi talks with enthusiasm and gratitude about her exploration of identity politics in her upcoming film ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’. “

Adapted from the novel by number-one New York Times bestselling author Nicola Yoon, and directed by acclaimed female director Ry Russo-Young, Shahidi plays Natasha, a Jamaican teenager whose family is being deported but whose 11th-hour meet-cute with a Korean-American boy forms the backbone of the narrative. “What felt parallel to me was Minnesota being the place that I’d most definitely consider home, but at the same time also struggling with St. Cloud proposing a Somali ban,” she says. “It’s that strange paradox of, ‘How do I feel so strongly attached and how have I done everything to contribute to my community and my city, and that same respect isn’t given to me?’ I love the way this film examines that duality.”

‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ is out May 17 (US); August 9 (UK). Read more about Yara Shahidi.

Yara-Shahidi-Cass-Bird-Porter-Magazine-Summer-2019- (1).jpg

Cass Bird Photographer Archives @ AOC