The Hollywood Portfolio Film

Actor and Harvard Grad Yara Shahidi on Her Proudest Achievement: Work-Life Balance

All clothing and accessories by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

Most 24-year-olds wouldn’t point to work-life balance as their greatest accomplishment of 2023. Then again, Yara Shahidi isn’t most 24-year-olds.

In the past three years, Shahidi has starred in two ABC sitcoms (Black-ish and Grown-ish), launched a production company (7th Sun, which she runs with her mother, Keri), graduated from Harvard (her thesis, on Black political thought, was titled “I Am a Man: The Emancipation of Humanness from Western Hegemony Through the Lens of Sylvia Wynter”), and executive-produced and starred in the dramedy Sitting in Bars With Cake.

It makes sense that she might be striving for a sense of balance. As impressive as the “work” half of the equation may be, Shahidi is equally proud of the “life” half: In her rare downtime, the Minneapolis-born actor practices karate (she, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a black belt), paints watercolors, and crochets. “A year-round TV schedule is a lot to maintain,” she says. “It’s been top of mind to return to the things that give me joy.”

Shahidi didn’t grow up a student of the entertainment industry—she did not watch more than an hour of TV per week until she was actually on TV. This year, she’ll wrap up her role as Zoey Johnson—the Denise Huxtable of our time—on Grown-ish. (She carried the character, which she has inhabited for a decade, over from Black-ish.) The jump from original to spinoff—which she not only starred in but also produced—was fulfilling. She credits Kenya Barris, the creator of both shows, with trusting her to make weighty decisions. “What I take most pride in is that when people come to visit the set they see that it’s a palpably positive space to be—a place where people enjoy working,” she says.


Shahidi has also established herself as one of the more politically conscious actors of her generation, unafraid to use her platform to educate audiences about voter registration, income inequality, and women’s rights. “I know it’ll sound clichéd, but I have to give credit to my family,” she says. “The conversations I’m having publicly are a reflection of the conversations that we have privately.” Shahidi continues to grow as an activist thanks to some influential mentors, including Sherrilyn Ifill, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Dr. Cornel West.

“When you run into people who can maintain a deep sense of optimism, not because they’re ignorant or unaware, but because they believe in our capacity to do and be better,” she says, “there’s something really moving about that.”

Jazmine Hughes is a National Magazine Award-winning writer based in Brooklyn, New York, and Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico.

MAKEUP BY Keita Moore
HAIR BY Kendall Dorsey
NAILS BY Tracy Clemens
CASTING BY Tom Macklin
STYLING ASSISTANCE BY Andrew McFarland, Laura Cheron Haquette, and Arianna Thode
PRODUCTION BY Giulia di Stravola
DIGITECH BY Victor Prieto
SET DESIGN BY Romain Goudinoux

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