“It started one fateful day,” said actress Yara Shahidi on a recent Friday in March. “I was going to a Beyoncé concert and wearing Ivy Park.” Like all good stories, no?
A fan of Beyoncé (naturally), Ivy Park (ditto), and women’s empowerment (same), Shahidi met the executive team behind Beyoncé’s athleisure label at that concert. They soon recruited her to appear in the latest campaign for Ivy Park, a series of images also starring SZA, Selah Marley, model Sophie Koella, Beyoncé herself and protégées Chloe and Halle Bailey—“my BFFs,” Shahidi said of the sisters, who had just wrapped up their European tour.
“It’s pretty cool to have friends where you can say that: Oh, yeah, they finished their Europe tour,” Shahidi said. “We had to take a moment mid-shoot to just hug it out.”
When we spoke, Shahidi was on a brief break from shooting the third-to-last episode of Black-ish’s third season—and she was about to begin shooting the pilot for the rumored spinoff series featuring her character, Zoey Johnson. While the initial buzz around that spinoff indicated it would follow Zoey’s escapades at college, Shahidi noted the pilot merely begins to plant the idea that Zoey will pursue higher education. (“I can’t give away too much detail,” she told me.)
It had been just more than a month since the campaign debuted at the end of January. Ivy Park Spring 2017 features exclusively women of color and emphasizes the physical and emotional strength of its stars. They’re depicted in their preferred workout environments, and Shahidi gave an interview accompanying the campaign in which she described the balancing, centering dimensions of her karate practice.
“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about if it’s scary to be on a public platform given the current administration and given that I’m a black Iranian,” Shahidi told me, referencing the travel and immigration ban to six predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. Shahidi’s father is Iranian, and members of her extended family still reside there. “I say that to say, companies that are still supporting individuality—that are still supporting self-empowerment—are so crucial.”
For Shahidi, who made her screen debut in Entourage on television and Imagine That on the big screen nearly a decade ago, her on-camera work and activism have long been intertwined.
“If you look at the history of art and fashion, it’s always been political. It’s always been pushing boundaries,” she said. Last year, she founded the mentoring organization Yara’s Club with the support of the Young Women’s Leadership Network; she said she has also been educating herself on local elections and grassroots campaigns: “Midterms will come up and there will be so many of us that can vote,” she said. “It’s more important, too, to not just vote during midterms, but if you’re of voting age—or even if you’re not of voting age, like I am—there are ways to make changes and be involved, versus this feeling of helplessness because we don’t have any political sway.”
Among her many public speaking engagements—she’s slated to speak on a panel at the South by Southwest festival next week—Shahidi has also appeared on stages alongside former first lady Michelle Obama, who also wrote her a college recommendation, and gave her a “go get ’em, tiger” pat on the back before Shahidi took her AP exams.
“She is very amazing and such a supporter, which is something very surreal to say,” Shahidi said, echoing her earlier sentiments about the Bailey sisters. (Shahidi’s college applications are now in; she said she plans to double-major in African American studies and sociology.)
Like Michelle Obama, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has also been “super supportive” of Shahidi’s college ambitions; in addition to the upcoming spinoff, Shahidi said she has been pitching a web series based on teenage diary entries applying theoretical concepts from her high school courses to their pop culture analogues, and she looks forward to returning to the big screen. “It’s been a minute since I’ve done a movie,” she said.
Coming full circle, it was also at the Obamas’ final White House Easter egg roll that Shahidi first met Beyoncé. The singer wasn’t on set during Shahidi’s Ivy Park shoot, though they have yet to meet since—Shahidi described her past few months as “insanity,” and “I can’t even imagine what it’s been like for her, carrying twins,” she said.
Like the rest of us, Shahidi hadn’t known Beyoncé was pregnant—with twins, no less—until that instantly iconic Awol Erizku-lensed Instagram portrait. “I was like, Oh, my gosh, they’re about to start a supergroup,'” Shahidi said. “It has to happen now.” Blue Ivy, take note.
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