9 Fascinating Facts About Zendaya

The “Dune: Part Two” star made history as the youngest two-time Emmy winner ever.
The Gen Z idol has been in the spotlight ever since her break-out role on Disney’s "Shake It Up."
The Gen Z idol has been in the spotlight ever since her break-out role on Disney’s "Shake It Up." / Emma McIntyre/GettyImages

On the heels of her recent Dune: Part Two and Challengers success, it’s safe to say Zendaya is having a moment. The mononymous actress, singer, model, and producer is a Golden Globe and two-time Emmy Award winner, but she has humble beginnings. As a child star, she appeared on several Disney Channel shows, plus had a quick stint in the 2010s as a recording artist signed to Hollywood Records. (Lest we forget, the banger of a lead single “Replay,” from her eponymous debut studio album, cracked the Top 40 of the U.S. Billboard Top 100 Chart in 2013.)

Today, Zendaya is best known for her brilliantly varied performances, including Chani Kynes in the Dune franchise, Rue Bennett in HBO’s Euphoria, and Michelle “MJ” Jones-Watson in Marvel’s latest reboot of the Spider-Man universe. And from the looks of it, her already impressive career is just getting started. Zendaya is currently slated to lead A24’s Ronnie Spector biopic Be My Baby, among other projects over the next few years. 

As we follow Zendaya’s meteoric rise in real time, here are nine interesting facts about the Hollywood favorite. 

Zendaya is the youngest of five siblings.

Zendaya at the premiere Of Disney's "Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" - Arrivals
She got her start with the California Shakespeare Theater, where her mother also worked as the house manager. / Frazer Harrison/GettyImages

Born in Oakland, California, on September 1, 1996, Zendaya is the only biological daughter of former teachers Kazembe Ajamu Coleman and Claire Stoermer. She doesn’t consider herself an only child, though; Zendaya has five older half-siblings on her father’s side, all of whom she has a close relationship with.

Her name tells the story of her heritage.

Zendaya at "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between" Costume Institute Gala - Arrivals.
She's always stuck to the mononym professionally, but there's a lot of history behind her name. / Dimitrios Kambouris/GettyImages

The cultural meaning behind Zendaya’s full name, which is Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman, draws on inspiration from the celebrity’s family tree, which has roots in both Germany and Africa. The name Zendaya (pronounced “zen-DAY-uh”) derives from the Shona word tendai, meaning “to give thanks,” while her middle name, Maree, plays on her mother’s traditionally French middle name, Marie, using African spelling. Her surname follows, consisting of both her mother and father’s last names, respectively. “I literally have a timeline in history in my name,” Zendaya said in 2015.

But despite the beautiful family story her full name illustrates, Zendaya’s stage name has always been a mononym. “I just thought it was cool, like Cher or Prince,” she told Allure in a 2016 interview.

Zendaya had to repeat kindergarten because she was so shy.

Zendaya robot suit, Warner Bros. Pictures & Legendary Present The World Premiere Of "Dune: Part Two"
These days, she's known for her daring looks. Case in point: This robot body armor suit that she wore at the world premiere of "Dune: Part Two." / Jeff Spicer/GettyImages

It may be surprising for fans to imagine Zendaya as anything but cool and confident, but the actress has actually spoken publicly about her social anxiety and innate Introversion. She’s cited acting as something that helped bring her out of her shell as a shy child. 

In a Dune: Part Two press appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Zendaya revealed that her extreme shyness led her parents to hold her back a year in school. “I did kindergarten twice because I was too shy,” she explained. “Whenever I didn’t understand something in class, I wouldn’t raise my hand and say ‘Hey, I need help,’ and they would just move on. I couldn’t keep up, so I did it twice!”

Zendaya’s a Kidz Bop alumna.

Zendaya’s stint as a pop singer may have been short-lived—but in a way, it goes back further than you probably thought. In 2009, the then-adolescent appeared in the music video for Kidz Bop’s cover of Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold.” The song was also featured on the Kidz Bop 15 studio album, though technically, Zendaya wasn’t involved in recording the track.

To this day, Zendaya’s adorable preteen dance moves against a backdrop of bright, bubbly colors are forever immortalized on YouTube. (Based on her reaction in a 2021 Spider-Man press appearance, she’d rather you not put them on blast.) What’s even cuter: Everything came full circle for the star when her 2013 hit “Replay” was featured on Kidz Bop 26.

You’ve probably seen Zendaya in some of your favorite artists’ music videos. 

Outside of the deep Zendaya Kidz Bop lore, the Euphoria star has also lent her acting chops to some of the biggest music videos to come out of the 2010s. In 2015, she appeared among the star-studded cast of Taylor Swift’s epic Bad Blood mini-film, which included other celebs like Selena Gomez, Hailee Steinfeld, Gigi Hadid, Ellen Pompeo, and even supermodel Cindy Crawford. She can also be found alongside several other notable Black women like Serena Williams, Halle Bailey, Amandla Stenberg, and Beyoncé herself in the iconic 2016 Lemonade visual album, an experience she considers “one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever had the honor to be a part of.”

Zendaya later stunned as Bruno Mars’s love interest in the surprise 2017 video for Versace on the Floor. This was after capturing the then-31-year-old singer’s attention when she impersonated him on Lip Sync Battle. The unexpected project and cameo combination shocked pop music fans—along with the actress herself. “ ‘I was like, ‘Man, why? Why me? From that video? How does that [lip sync battle] strike gracefully to you?’ ” she told Jimmy Fallon in a 2017 appearance on The Tonight Show.

Her assistant makes unexpected cameos in her movies.

Darnell Appling, Zendaya
Zendaya and her longtime assistant have been close since her Disney Channel days. / Don Arnold/GettyImages

Though they aren’t related, Zendaya has said she has a sibling-like relationship with her longtime assistant, Darnell Appling. As any Hollywood assistant might, Appling spends most of his time supporting Zendaya from behind the camera—but in addition to being a recurring figure in paparazzi pics of the star, Appling recently made an on-screen appearance as an umpire in her film Challengers.  

This opportunity presented itself after director Luca Guadagino noticed—and appreciated—Appling’s general vibe on set. “I used to be Zendaya’s stand-in [on K.C. Undercover], and I thought they just needed a body for the camera,” he told Vulture at the premiere of Challengers. “I came down, and Luca said, ‘I feel like you have a strong sense of truth and justice, and I was wondering if you could play the umpire.’ I said it was totally up to [Zendaya], who said, ‘Absolutely!’ It was all Luca who’d seen my aura, I guess, and what is surrounding me. I mean, it is true! Truth and justice, that’s all me!”  

Interestingly, it’s not the first time Appling has functioned as more than just a stand-in on one of Zendaya’s movies. A lesser-known cameo can be found in the latest installment of Marvel’s Spider-Man series: 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, in which Zendaya plays MJ opposite Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. Following the widespread reveal of Parker’s secret Spider-Man identity, Peter, MJ, and friends are mobbed by journalists and photographers while arriving at school. See if you can catch the brief moment when a wild, familiar-looking fan in the crowd shrieks into the cacophony of chaos, “MJ, we love you! MJ, are you gonna have his spider babies?!”

Zendaya is highly strategic about the acting roles she takes on.

Tom Holland, Zendaya at Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man: No Way Home" Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals
Zendaya with her partner Tom Holland, who she met on the set of "Spider-Man: Homecoming." / Emma McIntyre/GettyImages

It’s no secret that former child stars often struggle when the time comes to forge new paths and burst the supposed bubble of innocence surrounding their youth. Recognizing how easy it is to be pigeonholed to specific roles post-Disney Channel, Zendaya developed a mindset of always approaching opportunities with equal parts caution and care.

“For me, it was about … doing things that were smaller, but more elevated. I wanted to prove to people that I can do it,” she said when asked about it in a 2021 interview with Issa Rae. “I’d rather be a supporting role in an amazing movie than a lead in a bad one, right? So I’m just gonna take my time, start small, and build so that by the time I’m ready to make that step, it feels realistic.”

With how long Zendaya has been in the public eye, it’s easy to forget that she hasn’t always been the major movie star she is now. Her feature film debut, Spider-Man: Homecoming, didn’t come until 2017. Challengers (2024) marks not only the first movie the actress has led, but also the first time she’s ever portrayed an adult character.

Her first Emmy was hand-delivered to her house … by a woman in a hazmat suit.

Zendaya at the Emmy's.
But she got to grab her second Emmy statuette in person. / Frazer Harrison/GettyImages

In 2020, Zendaya took home her first Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as high schooler Rue Bennett in HBO’s Euphoria. The award show took place remotely that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in true “unprecedented times” fashion, the then-24-year-old star accepted the award from the comfort of her living room surrounded by friends and family.

Zendaya admitted to feeling shocked and “honestly speechless” after the win, beating out longtime Hollywood icons like Sandra Oh and Jennifer Aniston, who were also nominated in the category that year. But the logistics of physically receiving the award, procured off-screen by Appling just seconds after the reveal, were somehow even more mind-boggling.

“There was somebody standing outside of everyone’s home, I believe, with a hazmat suit and an Emmy, and if you won you got to keep the Emmy, and if you did not, they took it,” she recounted in a 2021 video for GQ. “So there was a lovely young woman outside of my house with a hazmat suit … and when [Darnell] heard the news, he grabbed it and ran in with it. So that’s how it got there so fast.” 

Her win that night proved to be a historic one in more ways than one. Zendaya became the youngest performer and second Black woman to ever win that category, after Viola Davis in 2015. Then in 2022, she did it again, winning Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her work on season two of the show. In so doing, she became the first Black woman to win the Emmy twice in that category, as well as the youngest two-time winner of any award in the event’s history.

Outside of acting, Zendaya is a fashion icon. 

Zendaya at the 2024 Met Gala
Zendaya at the 2024 Met Gala, which she co-chaired. / Gotham/GettyImages

Fashion plays a major role in Zendaya’s overall public image, spanning more than just her experimental and boundary-pushing red-carpet looks. (Though those are always just as iconic as her acting performances.) For starters, the actress has spoken about how she strategically used fashion early in her career to help propel her out of the Disney Channel box and cement her in the public zeitgeist as a true A-lister. “I would show up to shit I had no business being at just so I could get the look,” she said in a 2021 interview. “I was called a seat-filler for years … but I looked good though, so how about that.” 

In 2019, Zendaya proved that fashion was more than just a fun hobby for her to experiment with when she launched her first collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger, dubbed Tommy X Zendaya. Just two years later, she became the youngest person to receive the CFDA’s Fashion Icon award for her impact on global fashion at large. The frequent best-dressed list-topper also recently co-chaired the 2024 Met Gala, and is the current face of Lancôme, Bulgari, and Valentino.

Discover More Fascinating Facts About Celebrities: