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Zendaya Shares That Her Role in Dune Is “Very, Very Small”

Zendaya as Chani in the upcoming Dune Part One

Zendaya has shared that her role in Dune, as Chani, is small and that she only spent four days filming on Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming film—which would come as a surprise to people unfamiliar with the source material.

Chani’s character in the book is small.

To use an analogy many people will understand, she’s the Padmé—and as a Padmé lover, I do not mean that as a slight against the character. I say it only to illustrate that they are setting up Chani in the trailers and in interviews to be a character that, unless there are significant changes, will not meet the expectations being established.

During her interview with Empire, actress Zendaya shared the following insight into her character:

My part is very, very small in this movie and that’s why I’m so excited to see it, to see what everyone’s been up to. [Denis and I] had a little discussion about who Chani is and the strength she possesses. She’s a fighter, that’s what her people are. I only really had a few days with her, so I kind of scratched the surface but it was so much fun figuring her out. What does she walk like, what does she talk like? This is her planet, so how does she navigate this world? It was so fun.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is filled with powerful female characters, including Chani. In the books, she is already a powerful warrior, and after being trained by Paul and Jessica in the Bene Gesserit martial arts, she becomes even more powerful. Her relationship with Paul is treated as one of his few remaining tethers to reality once his abilities begin to turn him into more god than man.

Villeneuve has already spoken about his plans to ensure that Chani is an equal protagonist to Paul in Dune: Part Two. If it gets made.

“When I did the casting for Chani’s character, I met a lot of actresses,” Villeneuve said. “Zendaya wanted to audition and today, after shooting the film and seeing what a wonderful actress she is, I’m sorry I auditioned her. It was just because I didn’t know her. However that day, she impressed me and when she left the studio I knew that Chani was her, the young desert tiger. I am honored to present two such explosive talents on screen [Chalamet and Zendaya] and I can’t wait to shoot the second part of ‘Dune’ to get them back together. Knowing that in the next chapter Zendaya will be the [female] protagonist of the story.”

Following the first novel, she plays a much smaller role in the series until several books later, where a new incarnation of her appears in Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007), the sequel novels written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson that serve as a completion of the original series using Frank Herbert’s notes.

I feel sometimes as if we put so much pressure on every female character to complete the feminist bad-bitch checklist. Chani is an important character in Dune, but it isn’t just as a fighter. She is a romantic character, a love for Paul that will be deep and last thousands of years. It is okay to say that she is a love interest who is also, for a time, a badass warrior.

Being a love interest doesn’t make you a bad character unless that is all you are reduced to being. Chani wasn’t that in the source material, so she shouldn’t be that in the films.

(via Empire, image: Warner Bros.)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.