David Forde spotlights the rise to fame of this year’s Hollywood It-Girl Ayo Edebiri, investigating the meaning of her success for young Black women in the wider creative industry.
Every now and again a new name rises into stardom seemingly overnight, from Jenna Ortega of Wednesday (2022) to Normal People’s (2020) Daisy Edgar-Jones. These ‘It-Girls’ usually catch their big break by starring in a smash hit streaming series or a successful indie movie; however, it is likely not their first acting gig. The newest It-Girl on the scene is without a doubt American actress Ayo Edebiri. You may have seen her having fun with Paul Mescal at a Gucci after-party or showing off her best Irish accent on the red carpet, and if you haven’t seen her work, you may have wondered just how she’s come to be the star she is now.
Edebiri is the only daughter of Barbadian-Nigerian immigrant parents, and she grew up in Dorchester, a working-class neighbourhood in Boston. She began to gain a significant following after the release of Hulu’s The Bear (2022-) where she plays Sydney Adamu, a fresh-faced culinary school graduate alongside Jeremy Allen White’s Carmen Berzatto. For this role, she won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for numerous accolades, notably an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for the second season of The Bear, which was released in June of this year. But Edebiri’s talents lie in more than just acting, having written and produced a number of productions. She was featured as a stand-up comedian on the channel’s Up Next comedy showcase in 2020, and collaborated with her Bottoms (2023) co-star Rachel Sennott in the Comedy Central digital series Ayo and Rachel are Single in the same year.
But Edebiri’s talents lie in more than just acting, having written and produced a number of productions.
Edebiri’s success is incredibly refreshing since, unfortunately, young Black female talent often goes uncelebrated. Halle Bailey and Letitia Wright have both stepped into the spotlight in the last year for their respective roles in The Little Mermaid (2023) and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022). Both of these actresses faced a huge amount of backlash for these roles, with Halle Bailey criticised for portraying a previously White character in Ariel, and Letitia Wright for assuming the mantle of the Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; both of these young women were condemned by conservative critics for upsetting the cultural status quo. Zendaya is one of the few young Black creatives who has achieved significant success across multiple media forms and industries, and yet she still faced backlash for her role in the MCU’s Spiderman franchise as an iteration of the Mary-Jane character.
The conditions of Hollywood would appear bleak with these incidents in mind, and Edebiri faces a specific level of bias as a dark-skinned woman working in the industry. Recently, TIME magazine failed to include the actress in their Top 100 Most Influential People of 2023; the list actually failed to include many young Black actresses and artists at all. In previous years, the list has included names like Zendaya, Quinta Brunson, Zoë Kravitz, and Jazmine Sullivan, suggesting that the industry only dedicates so much space to celebrate Black women. One would wonder why TIME has neglected to include such a successful star as Edebiri, but nonetheless, I have no doubt in my mind that we will see her name on lists like this and more in the future. Edebiri’s success signals hope for the future of the industry and Black women’s rightful place within it.