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Zendaya Talks Spider-Man, Her First Love, and Reinventing Disney Stardom

IT’S A SPRING NIGHT in Hollywood, and I’m driving down Sunset to meet Zendaya when my phone rings. It’s Darnell, her soft-spoken assistant. Though Zendaya is making her movie debut this summer in one of the season’s biggest blockbusters, Spider-Man: Homecoming, she is also still filming the Disney sitcom that planted her in the hearts of little tomboys everywhere—K.C. Undercover, in which she plays a teen spy who is both a math whiz and a black belt in karate. Darnell is calling to say she is running late; a fight scene is taking longer than expected. “She’s swinging from a chain right now,” he explains politely.

When the elevator opens onto Soho House’s lobby, I walk straight into our date for the evening: Zendaya’s father, Kazembe Ajamu, a 64-year-old former P.E. teacher from Oakland. (Her mother, Claire Stoermer, is also a teacher.) Ajamu is tall and sturdy, in jeans and a navy sweatshirt, with thin shoulder-length dreadlocks pulled into a half ponytail.

We’re here because, having by now spent some time with Zendaya (pronounced “Zen-day-a”), I’m trying to wrap my mind around how a 20-year-old Disney star could be so insanelynormal. There are clues that her father, who moved with her to Los Angeles when she was thirteen, may be a key piece of the puzzle.

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