Meet Our Fall Cover Star: Yara Shahidi

Set in Los Angeles, where tales of romance often take center stage, Yara Shahidi’s upcoming film Sitting in Bars with Cake offers a refreshing departure by centering, above all, friendship. Shahidi, who serves as both star and executive producer, reflects on the film’s themes in a candid and insightful interview, opening up about friendship, navigating her twenties, and the role of her Harvard education on her artistic pursuits.

Full look by Prada.

Based on the memoir of the same name, Sitting in Bars with Cake is a coming-of-age film that presents a delicate balance between levity and grief. It follows a pair of best friends (played by Shahidi and her real–life friend Odessa A’zion) who, in the midst of navigating boys, bars, and jobs, are forced to reckon with the heavier realities of young adult life. Reminiscent of Beaches (1988) or My Girl (1991), the film successfully folds moments of humour and joy into themes of caretaking, grief, and the mutual support inherent in friendship.

Full look by Marni.

“I think friendship has been so monumental in my life, particularly female friendship and even mentorship, that it was really exciting to be a part of a project that really captured that,” says Shahidi. “And yes, while there’s this kind of dating subplot, I love the fact that at the core of it you keep returning to these friends.” For Shahidi, the balance between carefree youthfulness and gravity is what made the film feel authentic to her own experience in her twenties. “Our twenties are filled with a crazy contrast of having more autonomy and agency than we’ve ever had before but also with every ounce of responsibility and every loss, real and felt,” says Shahidi.

“I think friendship has been so monumental in my life, particularly female friendship and even mentorship, that it was really exciting to be a part of a project that really captured that.”

One of the film’s most poignant themes lies in the embracing of vulnerability and imperfections in unfiltered friendships. “What felt really reflective of my own friendships is that it’s not always neat—you go through a lot together, but the beauty of being able to be messy in front of somebody is a gift,” says Shahidi. “I think it is a gift to experience but also a gift to be able to be that for somebody.”

Full look by CHANEL.

For Shahidi, who is mostly widely recognized for playing Zoey in the sitcom Black-ish and its spinoff Grown-ish, the film represents an exciting departure in genre. “It’s been a fun 10-year journey to play Zoey and I think she’s given me this great comedic grounding and a love for comedy, but I’ve always resonated with drama,” reflects Shahidi. “I think just in terms of genre it was really fun to be able to do something dramatic that still had that levity in it.”

Sweater by Loewe; earrings and rings by Cartier.

Shahidi and her mother Keri founded 7th Sun Productions, their production company, with the intention of broadening the scope of impactful stories which get told in Hollywood. “As a young actor—especially as a young Black teenager—I feel like you get a very specific set of scripts often times—not to say there’s not incredible material out there, but in terms of what’s regularly coming my way, it was really rare to be able to see something that felt like it genuinely centered friendship in this amazing way.”

Dress by Dior; earrings by Cartier.

Shahidi, a self-proclaimed nerd and Harvard graduate, also had her academic journey help shape her creative sensibilities and production company. Her love for literature and immersive experiences in literary worlds became a compass in navigating her career in TV and movies. Not only does the name of the production company, which is a reference to W.E.B. Dubois’ Souls of Black Folk, reflect her academic pursuits, so too does her approach to art. “Being able to dedicate time to really intimately knowing African diasporic movements and Black political struggles, I think it actually made me less literal in how I think art has to carry meaning. It gave me a more broad understanding of the role of art in culture and in shaping what it is to be human.”

Full look by Max Mara; earrings by Cartier.

These days, Shahidi finds inspiration in hearing changemakers speak passionately about their causes, specifically when their missions are focused on creating change in one specific way.

“When you’re outside looking in, you can see that they’re doing much more than changing that one field,” says Shahidi. “They’re doing much more than just changing art or just changing law; they are changing the world.” For Shahidi, this approach allows her to better grasp the potential impact of her own pursuits. “It is just about starting small and focusing on one thing at a time.”

Full look by Louis Vuitton.

As for the future, the already highly accomplished actor and producer is “always looking for those authentic departures from what I’ve done before.” She looks forward to continuing to experiment with genre, experiencing new things, and figuring out what she enjoys as an artist. The 23-year-old has even considered going to law school but for now is enjoying being on sets without having to worry about papers or exams.

When asked what she hopes people take from the film, Shahidi says she hopes people resonate with the messages of remaining authentic to oneself and cherishing friendships. “I think we fit in this genre of movie that really sticks with people, so I’m hoping a lot of people get to love it and see it.”

Full look by Prada.

Sitting in Bars with Cake promises to be a heartfelt exploration of friendship and the complexities of young adulthood. Focusing on authenticity and vulnerability, the film presents the unfiltered beauty of friendship, and as she ventures into dramatic roles, audiences can continue to look forward to Shahidi imbuing her work with a strong sense of intention and her fierce commitment to diverse and impactful storytelling.

Full look by Gucci.

The previous cover story was completed prior to the SAG-AFTRA/ WGA strikes.

Photography by Lea Winkler
Styling by Jason Bolden (JSN Studio)
Makeup by Keita Moore (The Only Agency) using Dior Beauty and Dr. Barbara Strum skincare
Hair by Ursula Stephen
Tailoring by Luna López
Styling Assistant: Lennon Gabriel
Photo Assistants: Chad Hilliard, Terry Gifford
Set Designer: Way Out Studio (Agent Jana Crandal)
On Set Producer: Elise Snider