If you’ve been on Twitter over the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard the outrage over Zendaya’s Dune screen time adding up to a whopping seven minutes. The movie itself runs for over two and a half hours, so for fans of the actress (which includes the vast majority of Gen Z), her small part left much to be desired.
On Twitter, fans were irate, calling out the fact that she was so heavily promoted despite having very few lines. Zendaya plays Chani, an imperial concubine and fighter who appears mostly in protagonist Paul’s (played by Gen Z heartthrob Timothée Chalamet) mysterious visions throughout the film. Fans of the original 1965 Dune novel have pointed out that Zendaya’s screen time was to be expected, since her character doesn’t appear until 500 pages into the novel. This left Zendaya fans turning to the confirmed Dune sequel for some good news.
“zendaya as chani leading dune part 2, so true of her,” one fan tweeted, echoing the thoughts of many others. In a way, Zendaya became a walking trailer for the sequel.
Granted, Zendaya herself was also upfront about her small role and revealed she was only on set for four days. In an interview with the LA Times, director Denis Villeneuve further chalked up some of the characters’ limited screen time to his decision to split the source material across two films. “There are some characters that are less developed that I’m keeping for the second film — that’s the way I found the equilibrium,” he said.
But whether it was intentional or not to hold back on developing the other characters in favor of letting Paul take center stage, the decision to have Zendaya take on such a large role in the promotion of Dune must have been on purpose. After all, how else would we have collectively been convinced that she was the center of the Duneiverse?
The ads for Dune promised much more Zendaya than the movie itself delivered. And what about the press tour? Zendaya was out here taking BFF tests with Timothée, creating viral memes, and making waves with her red carpet fashion, all for a measly seven minutes. “you can literally watch one (ONE) press interview of Zendaya talking about Dune and it’ll be longer than she is actually in the film for,” one person tweeted.
I want to be mad at Dune for giving fans false hope, but I have to admit I’m pretty impressed at how brilliant a marketing tactic this is. Zendaya has incredible influence over Gen Z, perhaps the only generation not already buying in to the Dune hype. Zendaya occupies a unique position among Gen Z’s favorite celebrities: As a former Disney star we grew up watching on Shake It Up, she has the nostalgia factor. As a current Marvel star (and one half of a beloved Marvel celebrity couple), she’s of interest to superhero fans. She also manages to have chemistry with every actor she’s worked with — and yes, this extends to her new bestie Timothée. While he’s the current object of so many Gen Z’ers affections, a movie with just him is a good movie; a movie with him and Zendaya is a great one.
Plus, it’s no secret that the fashion industry loves Zendaya. Since she wasn’t able to attend this year’s Met Gala, perhaps all the press about her looks at the Dune premiere are a way of making up for that (and a way of proving that she doesn’t need the Gala to create a viral fashion moment). All of these factors converge into a Gen Z star power that frankly, Dune would be silly not to cash in on. Whether we like it or not, this marketing tactic was a success; Dune’s already earned nearly $300 million at the box office since its October 22 premiere.
And while Zendaya fans might still be upset, they can rest assured knowing Dune: Part Two’s release date is set for October 20, 2023. Considering the praise that the first film garnered from audiences and critics alike, this sequel has big shoes to fill — including the promise that Zendaya will have more screen time. Your move, Denis Villeneuve.