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I Run This: Yara and Keri Shahidi
IRunThis is a weekly interview series that highlights Black women and femmes who do dope shit in entertainment and culture while creating visibility, access and empowerment for those who look like them. Read my Alex Elle interview here.
Post “Black-ish” and Harvard graduation, Yara Shahidi is taking a well-deserved break. Sort of. The actor and her mother, Keri Shahidi, debuted their new show, “Yara Shahidi’s Day Off,” on Sept. 29.
Hosted by Yara Shahidi and produced by Keri Shahidi’s 7th Sun Productions, the show is a product of an idea they had at their dining room table. The Facebook Watch show follows the 22-year-old as she explores the little-known culture, cuisine and hobbies of her celebrity friends. She plays soccer with top TikToker Khaby Lame, creates a charcuterie board with actor Liza Koshy, and designs custom sneakers with rapper Swae Lee, to name a few. Other guests include rapper Nas, actor Amanda Seales and internet sensation Elsa Majimbo.
The duo said they wanted to do the series to show the multiplicities within public figures outside of what audiences know them for. But also to combat the idea that there can only be room for growth within one’s scope of expertise.
“The goal is to be able to be in conversation with my peers, and to really validate the fact that our curiosities, and those things that are viewed as tangents, are absolutely worthwhile, and absolutely come back to inform how you do whatever work you end up doing,” Yara Shahidi said.
For this week’s “I Run This,” the Shahidis discuss their new show, how their hobbies refuel them and why time away from work matters.
It’s been a minute since we connected. I don’t know if y’all remember, but we did the Mother’s Day video a few years ago. That was so much fun.
Yara Shahidi: That’s one of our favorite ones.
Keri Shahidi: Absolutely.
Oh, I love that so much.Yara, how’s life post-Harvard? Congratulations, by the way.
Yara: It’s so good. It’s been my first time working in, I don’t know how long, without school. And I loved, loved, loved school, but it’s also very cool to feel more present in everything that I’m doing because I don’t have an essay due every day.
Absolutely. What inspired “Yara Shahidi’s Day Off?”
Yara: It started as an idea that was developed around the Shahidi family table, really centered around both an understanding that I feel like there’s so much of my life that I haven’t necessarily had the opportunity or space to share, just in terms of hobbies, interests and passions. But also, so many of the people we’re surrounded by that inspire us may be known for one thing in the public eye but have such a wealth of knowledge and are motivated and inspired by so many different sources and spaces in their life.
Keri: Yeah. And I think what’s interesting is that when you see people that are just so focused in a space, I think it’s a neat next question to ask. What inspires you?
This isn’t the first time you have worked together, but how, specifically, on this project, was it different working together as a mother-daughter duo?
Yara: I think this is our first proper, unscripted foray together. And I think what works so well, and what’s nice, is that not only do we have a shared interest and passion in all the guests that we invited, but we kind of shared core tenets of what the space was going to be. And so, just being extremely adamant that this was, first and foremost, a safe and comfortable space for all of our guests. I think it’s helpful to have two people that are just so extremely on the same page.
And between Jesse Collins’s team and Meta, luckily, everyone was in alignment. There were some days when I was filming “Grown-ish” in the morning and then coming to film, so it wasn’t properly a day off. Just with the business of any show, even one where everyone is in alignment, it does take really being adamant about what values are non-negotiable and what energy you want to bring into it to make sure that that never wavers our process.
Keri: Yeah. And I think what was really neat about working with Yara on this project — she is an executive producer on “Grown-ish” and on a major motion picture that’s coming out — but what was really neat about doing this, outside of worlds that we may have already known, was to see if we could really carry over our tenets of the safe space of really trying to open up a platform, to share whatever our guests wanted to share. And our goal is never to excavate the exclusive.
Now, if something happens, like with Khaby, us creating a space for him to say, “Yes, I want that to be my first American interview.” There were so many people that said, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve never heard his voice.” And then, when you hear his voice on the show, he’s talking about him being representative of many other Afro-Italians. He’s not just out here to create financial abundance. It’s just so much deeper. And for us, it just made us smile to think, not only are we inspired by him, but to hear that he, too, like so many of the guests, are focused on a purpose that is greater than, bigger than, what we see on the screen.
A conversation that’s been really interesting is a lot more people are like, “OK, I don’t know what my hobbies are. I want to get more into my hobbies and explore outside of work.” What are those things outside of work that you two really lean into in order to refuel yourselves?
Keri: One of the inspirations was thinking about... Where can I create hobbies for myself consistently? So in a very cute way, it’s like, well, geez, I’ve got all of these other people in my purview that have these really neat experiences that they want to share with me. So you had a bunch of new experiences, Yara.
Yara: Yes, I had a bunch of new experiences, most of which I’d have to say I’d revisit. Right.
Keri: OK, wait, which ones would you revisit?
Yara: I’m trying to think. I think the hardest — this episode isn’t out, but gymnastics. It was tough. It was tough, emotionally. In my brain — and I had this with every episode experience — is that I have this inherent belief that I should be good at most things.
Keri: So, that’s because we seeded you with that idea.
Yara: Which is wonderful, but the frustration it causes when things don’t click right away. When I tell you, interviewing Khaby, I thought that I should be speaking Italian by the end of the interview. It’s a romance language. I did well in Spanish. I should be able to kick it by the end of this interview. And so, it was really funny to keep having to confront that in myself.
To answer your question, the things that refuel us, for me, I always kind of turn to music and experiences around music and concerts. I have lots of friends who are musicians. But that’s something that I feel like we always prioritize, and I always prioritize. It’s the one thing that you don’t have to convince me to prioritize. If there is a concert or something like that, I’m there.
Yara: But I’m still, in all honesty, figuring it out. Like I said, this would’ve been my first go, getting back from work and not staying up for hours, to then knock out whatever assignment before work starts again.
Keri: And I think, for me, what the pandemic offered to me was nature. And so, morning walks, afternoon walks, evening walks.
Yara: And for context, we were not known as outside people.
Keri: We were not.
Oh, wow. So this is very new.
Keri: Yeah. And so, just realizing that, for me, the idea of nature; it’s one of the things in our world that asks nothing of us in return. And so, to feel like you can be given a gift. You can choose to step outside, look up, and realize this is a gift for us. And there are no strings attached. Like, hey, sometimes we have things to do in our world, but there’s always some kind of trade-off. I think nature, for me, is really big. I took a walk yesterday with a friend from the East Coast, just around the neighborhood, and even watching other people and the emotion around nature is inspiring to me. So that’s one of my biggest hobbies.
What have you both learned about yourselves in exploring your hobbies or even the ones that you’re kind of exploring, trying to figure out if that’s your lane?
Keri: For me, it is just everything else in our world. When our professionals say you have to eat a good lunch, you have to eat this much protein, you have to actively create space for your curiosities to be able to blossom into other areas. And so, I think it’s the active creation of space.
Yara: I think it’s that oftentimes — and this is why even the show concept was so exciting for us. I think there’s this feeling that to be an expert, there’s a lot else that you have to give up in your world that serves as a distraction.
And I think what was so cool about every episode was to know how those “distractions” are actually what makes you better, more interesting at your craft, more curious, and more able to see new perspectives within your craft and your art space. And so, I think that was refreshing, just as a young person, and I hope, everyone else watching it. I think it was nice to be able to go onto Facebook Watch because it’s such an accessible platform. Because the goal is to be able to be in conversation with my peers and to really validate the fact that our curiosities, and those things that are viewed as tangents, are absolutely worthwhile, and absolutely come back to inform how you do whatever work you end up doing.
And this is a product of 7th Sun Productions, correct?
Yara: This is a product of the Shahidi family’s dining room table, formally known as the 7th Sun Productions.
Keri: I don’t know if you remember this, Yara. We were sitting around, and we were just kind of giggling about the double entendre of things. Imagine you’re sitting somewhere. And we created something called “Stacks on Stacks.” What would somebody think? Maybe they would think of stacking dollars, stacking this, and that. And we were laughing, saying, “Yara would be stacking books.”
And so, we started thinking about what’s something that, if you were talking to someone like Khaby, or Amanda, or Elsa, that you would assume, right? But maybe they say, “No, it actually means more to me. It means something else. It means something bigger.” And so, we took the kernel of that idea. Maybe, somebody sees you and thinks one thing, but there’s just so much more behind that.
And so, alongside Meta and Facebook Watch, the platform, we were able to really blossom our idea. Honestly, we had Tiffany Mills as our showrunner extraordinaire. We had just such an incredible team of brown, Black, immigrant... Everything. In the creative space is Jesse Collins Entertainment and their whole team. But the whole time, the goal was “safe space, creative curiosities, and led by our guests.” There was never a moment where there was ever anybody on the team saying, “Let’s get them to do this, say this.” So there were a lot of moments where we were behind the camera, and he was sitting in front, where everybody’s like, “Wow.” Because we were all learning together.
Yara and Keri Shahidi on Yara's graduation day.
I love that so much. What does this next era look like for Yara?
Yara: I’m trying to figure that out too. I’ll get back to you on that one, friend. I’ll have to follow up.
And that’s OK. I’m in the same boat. What does this next era look like for Keri?
Keri: I think being comfortable with asking that question every day and really listening. I’ve been spending a lot of time listening. Yara’s gotten everybody in our family into podcasts, I don’t know, a decade ago. But really, sometimes, I just let the universe hit play on whatever it is — listening to a conversation, meeting someone. You could be talking to someone who is in customer service, valet, or whatever it is. My goal is to walk away and think about, like, huh, there’s a reason why we were put in the same space. So what is it I am taking away to help me think about my future? I’m really focused on that.
But in the meantime, working alongside this irreverent 22-year-old who dreams, dreams, dreams, dreams, and drags us along. And I dream and drag her along. And it’s just been such a pleasure to be very focused on creating space for people as our main tenant for other creatives. We’ve been so blessed to have platforms and to have people support us as a family and support Yara as a creative. And we do not take that for granted, and we feel like one of our purposes is to continue to create safe spaces.
What, right now, is the biggest thing that you are teaching each other?
Keri: Downtime? Downtime. Don’t you think?
Keri: Traveling, not just for work, just to wander.
Yara: Yeah. No, absolutely.
Keri: Yara is a very responsible human. A couple of weekends ago, I think I blocked her doorway. I was like, “Oh, no, sis. You not staying here tonight. You have to get out and get into the world.”
I know that’s right.
Keri: And off she went and had a great time.
Yara: I did. And I think, I mean, to what you were saying about how you listen to people, I think attentiveness is the other thing I’m learning constantly. Because I think, sometimes, it’s exciting when you’re future-focused, and there’s a lot happening in the future, but there’s so much missed in the present.
If you ask anybody that has crossed paths with my mother, they have had an impactful experience. Whether it’s been 30 seconds, two months, or known her for a couple of years, it’s just something I’m constantly hearing. But I think it goes back to attentiveness. It’s like, when you’re in conversation with her, you know that she’s present and thinking about you, thinking with you. And I think it’s when people have that experience and then also realize how rare that can be in our daily interactions.
What do you want your viewers to take away from “Yara Shahidi’s Day Off?”
Yara: Well, first and foremost, we want it to be a fun watch. Something enjoyable and joyful since you’re taking the time to watch anything in your day. I hope that you’re seeing some of your favorite faces, and inspired by the conversations they’re starting and the things they’re thinking about. And I think, for me, one of my biggest takeaways is just how much you can imbue purpose in absolutely anything that you do. I think every guest unintentionally, so I ended up touching on that. And then how they find purpose in even the things we think of as downtime and hobbies to things they center their career on.
Keri: You know what was really interesting? I’m just going to pick Swae as an example. I’m sitting on the sidelines, listening to this young artist, who reminds me of someone like Prince in terms of focus and dedication to a craft and being purpose-driven. And I literally have told Yara, “Text him and tell him your mom has said, ‘Write your book.’”
He had so much to share, and it just made him smile, what he’s doing, and what his plan is. He’s like, “I’m here for a long time.” That’s not just born of a latent desire. That’s a purpose. And so, he had so much to share. And again, chronological age does not make an older person a teacher and a younger person a student. I think the show really highlights on, hopefully, for our audience, that we switch roles, teacher and student, many times during the day. And that should be really enjoyable. I sat in the space of learning with every one of the guests that we were so lucky to be in a relationship with on the show.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.