zoë kravitz discusses the politics of fame and racism in hollywood
Singer, actor and style icon Zoë Kravitz has emerged from her parents’ shadows and is fast becoming one to watch in her own right. Here she opens up to i-D.
"I think everyone goes through it," Zoë Kravitz says over the telephone from her LA home, with the kind of clarity that only comes after conquering some pretty big demons. "It's natural to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. What I don't think is natural is the pressure to be perfect." Zoë Isabella Kravitz has always felt like she was different. When she was five years old her parents, actress Lisa Bonet and rockstar Lenny Kravitz, divorced. She lived with her mother in LA until she was 11, before moving to Miami to be with her father. "My dad used to pick me up from school in a sports car and everyone would run up to him and freak out," she recalls. "It was really weird." While her parents' fame certainly afforded her a comfortable upbringing, it also created a sense of tension throughout her formative years. "As a kid you're just trying to fit in," she muses, "I'd go to a new school and everyone would know I was coming and who my dad was." While some kids only wanted to be friends with her because of her parents, others ostracized her because of it. Either way, people formed an idea of Zoë based purely on who her parents were, which is hard for a young kid, especially when you don't even know who you are yourself.
It wasn't only the fact that Zoë had famous parents that made her stand out, being of African-American and Jewish descent was another point of difference in her predominately white school. "It's been a journey for me to be comfortable in my own skin," she reflects, "growing up, everyone feels awkward. You feel different, that there's something's wrong with you. You're not tall enough or blonde enough or skinny enough." It was perhaps this feeling of inadequacy that led to her developing an eating disorder during her teenage years.
Things improved when Zoë turned 15 and moved to New York, where she fell in love with theatre. A year later, she landed herself an agent and started auditioning for roles. Once again, her famous background played a part in this. "There's no doubt about it, there are things which were made easier because of my parents," she concedes, "but it made me work harder." Zoë is the first to admit that having famous parents opened many doors, but it's her sheer determination and natural talent that have kept these doors wide open. When she was just 17 years old, Zoë landed her first real role opposite Jodie Foster in Neil Jordan's The Brave One. Now 26, she has a wealth of both big budget and small indie movies to her name. There's X-Men: First Class, the Divergent series, last year's Dope, and of course George Miller's epic remake of Mad Max: Fury Road, in which she played one of Immortan Joe's captive wives. "George had a really specific vision of what he wanted us to do," Zoë explains of shooting the post-apocalyptic blockbuster. "We had to prep in the middle of nowhere for months. You know you really become part of that world, I don't think anyone would understand unless they've lived through it." By this stage, any insecurity Zoë may have had regarding nepotism had dissipated: "George Miller doesn't care who I am," she says, defiantly. "There's no benefit for him in hiring Lenny Kravitz's daughter. Hopefully people will see that I've worked hard."
Despite being so young, Zoë's under no illusions when it comes to how Hollywood operates. "It's a fancier version of high school," she laughs. Although the roles she takes are varied, Zoë is very specific about those that she accepts. For instance, she refuses roles that revolve around her race; she won't settle for being the main girl's best friend or the token black girl, which is what made landing the role of Chloe in The Brave One, so significant, as it was originally written for a white Russian girl. But it hasn't all been smooth sailing; she couldn't get an audition for a small part in The Dark Knight Rises, because she was deemed too "urban." "It's upsetting," she explains, "there's so much racism in the world. It's kind of interesting, though. I'm sure there are lots of young, black women who interview for a job but don't get it because of the color of their skin, but they'll never know why. Within the entertainment industry people are just brutally honest."
Another thing Zoë's keen on challenging is Hollywood's representation of women, which is why she accepted the role of Roxxy in Gary Michael Schultz's forthcoming revenge thriller, Vincent-N-Roxxy, opposite Emile Hirsch. "Roxxy is a strong black, female character that I hadn't seen before in film, which is why I wanted to do it. Women in film always end up as accessories to men, especially with men directing it, you never see a full, thought out character that isn't just a vagina." Another role that stood out for Zoë was the lead in 2014 indie flick The Road Within. In an eerie case of life imitating art, while playing the part of Marie, a young girl suffering from anorexia, Zoë saw her own weight plummet to a dangerous 90 pounds and her rib cage became ever more visible. Eventually her immune system shut down and she developed shingles. From that moment on something inside her changed. "After that I made a conscious decision to accept myself," Zoë says. "I just got so tired of the self hatred, of comparing myself to something that I'm not, something that I don't even want to be."
It was during this period that Zoë really began to focus on her music, recording in her spare time with her two best friends James Levy and Jimmy Giannopoulos, and forming a band they called Lolawolf. "Music was always my savior," she says wistfully. "When I was younger, hearing someone else sing about things that I could relate to made me feel like I wasn't alone. Then a couple of years ago when I started making my own music it really changed my life." In 2014 the band, named after Zoë's half siblings on her mother's side, released their eponymous EP. A dreamy blend of electro pop and R&B, their music was an instant success, as was their follow up album Calm Down. "The reaction has been really interesting," Zoë says, animatedly. "We have really amazing fans who come to all our shows and know all the words." That year they toured with Lily Allen and Miley Cyrus, who later appeared in the band's video for "Bitch," while last year they opened for Twin Shadow, whose frontman Zoë is currently dating. "As an artist and a human being Zoë just keeps growing, it's so inspiring to watch," says bandmate Giannopoulos. "In the studio I'm always trying to push her and she does the same, it's a shoving match and she usually wins!"
As she's gotten older, Zoë's found ways outside of music of expressing herself, most notably through her sense of personal style. "I see it as another medium," she confesses. "It's a really interesting way of reflecting what you're feeling and what you want to project." The spitting image of her mother, Zoë keeps her hair in waist-length braids, but it's her father's rock 'n' roll heritage that seems to have rubbed off on Zoë the most. Think biker boots teamed with loose, long dresses, ripped denim shorts with tank tops, 90s chokers and a pair of dark shades. She's the epitome of cool. A regular at New York Fashion Week, Zoë is steadily carving out a reputation for herself as a style icon, which is something her close friend Alexander Wang recognized when he cast her in his spring/summer 16 show for Balenciaga, and its accompanying campaign. "I'm not a model, though!" she's quick to interject.
But that's not to say that Zoë doesn't recognize the importance of girls like her being given visibility within the industry, girls who don't conform to mainstream standards of beauty i.e. tall, skinny, white, and blonde. "That's actually what keeps me going," she argues, "representing all of the girls who aren't being represented." This need to change our visual landscape, to challenge society's representation of race, gender and beauty, doesn't just stop at modeling; it applies to everything she does in life. "That's really what motivates me, girls being able to see themselves in a film or in a campaign or on the stage making music. It's so important. I never had that; there weren't that many mixed race girls out there that you could see."
Currently working on the second Lolawolf album, as well as starring alongside Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern in the hit new NBC series, Big Little Lies ("It's like an acting masterclass every day!"), Zoë's star continues to shine ever brighter, having fully emerged from her parents' shadows. So is stratospheric fame something she's ready for? "It's important to recognize the absurdity of it all," she points out. "It can affect you in very strange ways, it can leave you feeling exposed, and even moments of being blocked off from the world. You lose your anonymity. Going into a coffee shop is a lot different now than it used to be, you know? People are whispering about you in the corner, you can hear it but you're trying to act normal." As a public figure, social media is still something Zoë struggles with. "The other day I posted something and people didn't like it. I wanted to say something mean back or explain myself but then I have to remember that that person isn't talking to me, they're talking to an idea of me." Far removed from this 'idea' that people have of her, when it comes to the real Zoë Kravitz, there's no need for pretense. "I'm not here to be the best or the coolest or the prettiest," she surmises, "I'm just here." Sounds like a pretty good place to be.
Text Tish Wienstock
Photography Matt Jones
Styling Carlos Nazario
Hair Leslie Bennett using Tara Smith Haircare
Make-up Kara Yoshimoto Bua at Starworks using CHANEL S/S 2016 and Rouge Coco Style
Styling assistance Julian Dartois
Tailor Hasmik Kourinian
Shot on location at The Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles