This year at the Emmys, Zendaya made history, and it was a joyful moment in what has been a dark year. At the virtual ceremony held on Sept. 20, Zendaya became the youngest actress to win “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series” for her performance in “Euphoria”.
Although she is only 24 years old, Zendaya has already been in the public eye for 10 years. For young people today, it feels like Zendaya grew up alongside them. After getting her start on Disney Channel in shows like “Shake It Up” and “K.C. Undercover”, Zendaya moved onto more mature works at the same time as the people who watched her on Disney were moving on to their adult lives.
Her role in “Euphoria” is a far cry from anything Disney. In her performance as Rue, a 17-year-old recovering addict, she demonstrates a maturity in her performance beyond her years, while still beautifully portraying the pain of being young. However, though her character is riddled with demons, Zendaya gives more dimension to Rue than just the dark sides of her addiction. She is a girl who deals with the angst of being a teenager, the pain and the joy of young love and a complex and evolving relationship with her mother and younger sister.
Her mastery of the nuances of this character is likely what helped her stand out amongst the other women nominated for the award, who were all older and more seasoned in the industry. The other nominees in the category consisted of Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”), Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”), Olivia Colman (“The Crown”), Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”) and Laura Linney (“Ozark”).
In her acceptance speech, she addressed the power of young people today, saying, “I just want to say there is hope in the young people out there — I know that our TV show doesn’t always feel like a great example of that — but there is hope in our young people and I just want to say to all my peers out there doing the work in the streets, ‘I see you, I admire you, I thank you.'”
The show’s creator Sam Levinson wrote the character of Rue based off his own experiences with addiction; however, the character could not have been brought to life successfully by anyone other than Zendaya. Levinson said in an interview with Collider, “I feel so grateful that Z’s leading this whole piece because her work ethic is just incredible and non-stop, and she’s also one of the most generous human beings that I’ve come across, in my entire life.”
When “Euphoria” first aired on HBO last summer, the show quickly became a hit with Zendaya leading the cast. The show deals honestly and sensitively with the issues that young people face today. Zendaya is really able to shine in this show because of her ability to deliver raw, stripped-down performances, but also bring light to some of the darker moments on the show.
Though Zendaya is now a sci-fi superstar, having starred alongside Tom Holland in the “Spider-Man” franchise and Timothée Chalamet in the upcoming sci-fi film “Dune”, she still remains incredibly humble. This humility and grace follows through to her performances. It is evident that she put in the emotional labor necessary to portray a character such as Rue. Zendaya’s performance as Rue is never flat and is always full of life. Ultimately, Zendaya’s Rue is relatable.
With Zendaya’s big win, fans of “Euphoria” are getting antsy for the second season to come out. However, due to COVID-19 shutdowns, the production shut down in March and it is likely that production for season two will not begin until early 2021. But there is still hope for those craving “Euphoria” content sooner. The show is trying to find a way to film a “bridge” episode with a smaller cast and crew to give fans something while the world anxiously awaits to see where Zendaya takes Rue in the second season.
Additionally, for those who just cannot get enough of Zendaya right now, her upcoming film “Dune” is set to be released Dec. 18. So, there are only a couple of months to wait until we see more of her magnetic performances on screen.
Nicole Bates can be reached at [email protected]