Yara Shahidi May Play Selfish on Black-ish, But IRL, She’s a Boss to Watch
On the ABC comedy Black-ish, Yara Shahidi plays Zoey Johnson, the teenage daughter of Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross’ characters. Yara excels at playing the entitled, selfie-obsessed Zoey, which proves what a good actress she is. In real life, Yara cares less about her looks–and a lot more about making the world a better place.
Yara is Iranian-American, and was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She started performing when she was six weeks old, appearing alongside her mother, Keri-Salter Shahidi, in commercials and print ads for companies like McDonald’s, Ralph Lauren, Target, Gap Kids, Disney, Guess Kids, Children’s Place, and Disney. Yara’s family moved to California when Yara was four to better accommodate the work schedule of her father, photographer and cinematographer Afshin Shahidi.
Yara got her big break when she was cast as Eddie Murphy’s daughter in the 2009 comedy Imagine That. Yara played Olivia, a girl able to predict the future with the help of her blankie and her imaginary friends, and earned a Young Artist Award nomination for the role. She went on to appear in the movies Salt, Unthinkable, Butter, and Alex Cross, as well as making guest appearances on several TV shows, including Cold Case, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Lie to Me. Yara has had recurring roles as a young Olivia Pope on Scandal and as Maddie on The Fosters.
In 2014, Yara was thrilled to join the cast of the primetime comedy Black-ish. “Before I auditioned for Black-ish, I received scripts that portrayed black people in a negative and stereotypical way,” she told the New York Times. “Black-ish is a more positive portrayal of what it’s like to be black in America.” In 2015, Yara won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on the show. She was also nominated for a Teen Choice Award as a breakout TV star.
Yara is best known as an actress, but she continues to do some modeling–she appears in a current Brooks Brothers campaign–all while handling the workload of a high school student. She is tutored on the Black-ish set and maintains a 4.6 GPA. She takes AP and honors classes, and loves reading historical fiction and Greek mythology. She’s also a black belt in karate.
Above all, Yara prides herself on being a humanitarian. When she’s not on set, she works hard to have a positive impact on the world around her, partnering with educational and anti-bullying organizations, and encouraging young people to get involved with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. She has worked with UN Women, Saving Our Daughters, Young Women’s Leadership Network, and DoSomething.org, among others in her role as an activist and advocate. IRL, Yara is the antithesis of the self-centered character she plays on TV, making her a boss to watch.