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The Hollywood Insider Zendaya Career Timeline

In fall 2009, a young girl nervously walked into an audition room to perform for Disney Channel casting agents, who were actively seeking the star for their new show ‘Dance Dance Chicago.’ The girl wasn’t fully confident in her dancing ability, but she connected with the character, Rocky Blue. After chemistry testing with another young actress, this girl was hired for her first major project, which would later be renamed ‘Shake It Up.’ A little over a decade later, she would win her first Emmy Award for ‘Euphoria.’

Now, Zendaya has become a household name after growing a reputation of excellence in the entertainment industry. At 27 years old, she’s been in multiple Disney Channel projects, animated films, a musical, three Marvel films, Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ franchise, and the newest Luca Guadagnino film ‘Challengers.’ She made Forbes’ 30 under 30 list at only 19 years old, and was labeled a “triple threat from the Mouse House.” She’s already accomplished so much during her time in the industry, and she’s only going up from here.

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Disney Channel (2010-2018)

‘Shake It Up’ was Zendaya’s first role on Disney Channel, and showcased her comedic and dancing abilities to the world. The dynamic duo of Cece (Bella Thorne) and Rocky was born on the set of Shake It Up Chicago, a local dance show that they performed in the background of. While the show was intended for children and didn’t require extensive acting from Zendaya, it gave her a successful start in the industry and opened up doors for more Disney roles.

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Zendaya teamed up with Thorne again for the 2012 Disney Channel Original film ‘Frenemies,’ based on the book by Alexa Young. This film is certainly dated now, with Zendaya and Thorne’s characters fighting over who gets to be the senior editor of their web magazine “GeeklyChic.” The girls are extremely immature about the situation which makes the film hard to watch at times, but it’s certainly a product of the Disney Channel outrageous comedy format at the time. 

Two years later, Zendaya starred in ‘Zapped,’ where she played a cell phone addicted 16-year-old girl starting at a new high school, facing all the traditional stereotypes. After a mishap with her phone gives her the power to control the boys in school, chaos ensues in her life. Similar to ‘Frenemies,’ ‘Zapped’ is filled with cringe-worthy moments and is not Zendaya’s finest work. Her final contribution to Disney Channel was ‘KC Undercover,’ a series where she strapped on spy gear alongside the rest of her family to fight crime. The show ran from 2015 to 2018, until Zendaya clearly started outgrowing the part and became ready to move on from Disney Channel.

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The ‘Spider-Man’ Franchise (2017-present)

In 2015, Marvel Studios officially made a deal with Sony to share the film rights for a new Spider-Man franchise, starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker and Zendaya as Michelle Jones, who would later be revealed as MJ. Zendaya’s version of the classic comic book character is a far cry from Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal in the Sam Raimi trilogy, in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming,’ Jones is introduced as a misfit who watches her classmates from afar and only truly interacts with Peter and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). Her character was borderline frustrating in this film simply because her only character trait was sarcasm, but it did leave room for a lot of growth in the next two films.

Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is when MJ finally became a love interest for Peter after his former crush moved away after her father was sent to prison. There’s nothing more compelling for a teenage boy to start pursuing a girl than competition, so when a new student shows interest in MJ, Peter comes up with a romantic plan to woo her with a necklace on the Eiffel Tower. Zendaya got to show off her acting chops more in ‘Far From Home,’ especially during tense scenes towards the end of the film when she finds Peter injured by Mysterio. Her chemistry with Holland both onscreen and offscreen during the press tours for ‘Homecoming’ and ‘Far From Home’ was obvious, which is what led fans to strike up dating rumors that ended up confirmed in 2021.

Zendaya’s shining moment in the MCU was undoubtedly ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ in 2021. By this film, MJ was a fully dynamic character with meaningful relationships that softened up her tough exterior. Even after Peter’s identity was exposed to the world, she stood by him selflessly instead of running away. Zendaya kept the quick-witted nature of MJ from the earlier films in ‘No Way Home,’ but also molded her into someone it was easier to root for. 

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The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Greatest Showman’ is the first film that authentically showcased Zendaya as a triple threat performer. Starring alongside industry giants like Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya rose up to the challenges that a circus-based movie musical presents. She prepared for the role by training to build the core strength necessary to complete trapeze stunts that her character, Anne Wheeler, would perform in massive musical numbers like ‘The Greatest Show.’ After joining the circus, Wheeler catches the attention of newcomer Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and the two start up a push-and-pull relationship that culminates in the passionate song, ‘Rewrite the Stars.’ Zendaya had fantastic chemistry with Efron, which is a testament to her acting capabilities even in a film mostly dedicated to the spectacle of musical numbers and stunts. 

Euphoria (2019-present)

Perhaps her most celebrated role thus far, Zendaya’s performance as teenage drug addict, Rue Bennett, in ‘Euphoria’ was labeled as “honest and riveting” by Collider. This role forced Zendaya to deliver the most gut-wrenching acting of her career thus far, especially in scenes beside her costars Nika King and Storm Reid, who played her mother and sister respectively. Critics and viewers of the show have labeled ‘Euphoria’s’ portrayal of addiction as painfully accurate, especially in the second season when Rue is forced to have an intervention. The show is based on showrunner Sam Levinson’s own experiences with addiction as a teen. Zendaya has won two Emmy awards for her portrayal as Rue in 2020 and 2022.

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Malcolm & Marie (2021)

Zendaya teamed up with Sam Levinson again for the Netflix original film ‘Malcolm and Marie,’ costarring John David Washington. The black-and-white drama follows a couple struggling to stay in tact in Hollywood — Malcolm being a filmmaker and Marie the muse that inspired his story. The film was created during the pandemic and shot on a single location, with the only actors being Zendaya and Washington. It received mixed reviews critically, with The New Yorker calling it “desperate to push buttons” and “perplexing” because of the half-baked plot and edginess that didn’t hold any true substance. Zendaya’s performance was the best part of the film with her compelling monologues in an otherwise dull film.

Dune Franchise (2021-present)

Even though she only got seven minutes of screen time in the first ‘Dune’ film, ‘Dune: Part Two’ more than made up for it this year. Zendaya gave the most captivating film performance of her career as Chani, a Fremen freedom fighter on the desert planet Arrakis that falls in love with the “chosen one” Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Chani’s relationship with Paul was doomed from the start, since he was prophesied to bring salvation to the Fremen people and achieve an immense god-like power. Chani didn’t believe this, and loved Paul without following him blindly like the other Fremen. ‘Dune: Part Two’ ends with a powerful shot of a brokenhearted Chani after Paul betrays her for political gain, just as the prophecy stated. While Chalamet gave a career-best performance in the film, Zendaya stole every scene she was in. She went from having less than 10 minutes to work with to practically an entire three hour film — and she accepted it with grace and admirable commitment to the source material.

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Challengers (2024)

The newest edition to Zendaya’s filmography is Luca Guadagnino’s tennis love triangle flick ‘Challengers,’ where she co-stars with Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist. Zendaya is already receiving Oscar buzz for her role as Tashi Duncan, a former tennis star who suffered a career-ending injury. Instead of leaving the tennis world, she became a coach to her husband, Art Donaldson (Faist). Guadagnino is known for his raw, erotic work in films like ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Bones and All,’ so this film’s love triangle between the tennis pros will likely be deliciously dramatic.

By Kaitlyn Murphy

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I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”

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