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March 16, 2016

Saying Yes to Success

The young star of black-ish is already a show-biz veteran.

John Griffiths
  • Keith Major

"I'm definitely a positive person," says rising star Yara Shahidi.

As if to confirm, the high-school junior points out that with her two younger brothers (Ehsan, eight, and Sayeed, 13), the first letters of their names "spell Y.E.S.!"

Summing up Zoey Johnson, the savvy teen she plays on ABC's black-ish, Shahidi says: "She likes the luxury lifestyle." Zoey is probably better known for giving her marketing-whiz dad Andre (Anthony Anderson) and doctor-mom Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) the I'm-so-over-it eye. "She likes challenging people. She could be a little bit more respectful to her parents."

The Minneapolis-born, LA.-raised Shahidi, meanwhile, has much admiration for her parents: dad Afshin, an Iranian-born cinematographer, and mom Keri, a commercial actress. At six, Shahidi frolicked with her mom in a pitch for McDonald's and found performing fun. Her brothers followed suit (Ehsan plays O.J. Simpson's son, Justin, in FX's American Crime Story; Sayeed costars on ABC's Uncle Buck reboot).

And, no surprise, she already has extensive credits: Shahidi was Eddie Murphy's daughter in Imagine That and Angelina Jolie's neighbor in Salt. She earned acclaim as a cynical orphan alongside Jennifer Garner in the quirky indie flick Butter and appeared on Scandal as a young Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). In her first series role, in 2012, she played the daughter of the U.S. president on the short¬lived syndicated sitcom The First Family.

For now it's a life filled with work and school. From her online AP classes, she's learned, "History is like a play with five characters just changing outfits!" Extracurricular kicks: absorbing other cultures (she's recently back from Italy, where she ate "lots of pizza"), inhaling historical fiction (Chains, a tale of slavery during the American Revolution) and checking out colleges (maybe Harvard).

As for her current black-ish role, Shahidi admits to looking up to her "assured" TV alter ego. "I feel like just by playing her I gain more confidence."

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