With a starring role as Zoey Johnson in both “Black-ish” and its spinoff “Grown-ish”, Yara Shahidi has grown up on our TV screens. Her real-life story is every bit as fascinating.
Yara’s father, Afshin Shahidi, is an Iranian cinematographer but best known as Prince’s photographer for many years. Her mother, Keri Shahidi, is an African-American actress who once voiced Michelle Obama on “American Dad!” Her siblings are also actors and the rapper Nas is her cousin-once-removed.
For more about Yara Shahidi’s family background and how it has influenced her development, continue reading.
Afshin Shahidi, Yara’s father, is Iranian and was raised in Minneapolis from the age of eight. He was an aspiring videographer in his youth and exaggerated his level of experience in order to work on one of Prince’s music videos in 1993.
He caught Prince’s eye, which he attributes partly to standing out due to his unique appearance in a predominantly white Minnesota. The photographer and musician developed a strong bond over the years and, by 2001, Afshin had been appointed his personal photographer with unprecedented access to the music legend’s personal life. In 2019, he released a book of his favorite photos and stories from his experiences with the icon, “Prince: A Private View”.
In 1992, Afshin met grad student Keri Salter at a local Minneapolis lounge and the two became romantically involved. In Afshin’s words, Keri “stalked him”, a version of events that Keri confirmed when asked. Like her daughter, Keri has acted, most famously providing the voice of Michelle Obama on an episode of “American Dad!” This is especially ironic, as the former First Lady is known to have written a letter to Harvard recommending Yara’s acceptance into the college.
In her own words, Yara is the “result of love. More specifically, Black and Iranian love. Of Shia love, of Christian love, of American love”. It’s this unique combination of influences that have seen Shahidi grow into a politically minded, socially conscientious young woman.
Yara’s family makes a conscious choice to be as involved in her career as possible, a decision that the actress says is consistent with her father’s Iranian roots. When she turned 16, her parents were told that they no longer needed to be present on the “Black-ish” set but Keri reiterated the importance of a strong family foundation when involved in the tumultuous world of showbusiness. In Yara’s words, her entire family made an investment in her joining the show.
Yara’s time on the show has largely mirrored reality. During the creation of “Grown-ish”, the spinoff show following her character Zoey into her college years, Yara was completing her own college application process. She earned a place at Harvard, planning to major in sociology and African-American studies.
If the letter Yara received from Prince was the result of her family history (she has early memories of sitting on Prince’s floor as a child), the letter of recommendation from Michelle Obama was not. Yara has proven herself to be outspoken against the unfortunate realities prevalent in society, addressing issues with maturity, confidence, and passion beyond her years.
As the daughter of an Iranian man and African-American woman, of a Shia Muslim and Christian, Yara Shahidi understands the challenges faced by minorities every day. It’s clear that she wishes to use her platform as a celebrity as an opportunity to have a positive influence and hopefully play a part in causing change.
Yara isn’t the only star in her family. Moving away from her immediate family unit, she revealed that her cousin-once-removed is multi-platinum rapper Nas, saying that it doesn’t really register with her that he is such a superstar. As a rapidly rising star in her own right, and having already achieved so much, there seems to be no limit to what Yara Shahidi can accomplish.