By Taylor Mascetta
Zendaya Coleman made history at the 72nd Emmy Awards, taking the coveted top prize in the “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama” category for her portrayal of Rue Bennett in HBO’s “Euphoria.” In doing so, she becomes the youngest Emmy winner in this category at the age of 24.
“She’s younger than Baby Yoda and she already has an Emmy!” host Jimmy Kimmel quipped as a breathless Zendaya received her award at home, her family and friends cheering behind her.
In a year of socially-distanced, virtual uncertainty, Zendaya came into the race undoubtedly as an underdog. She went up against huge names including Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”), Olivia Colman (“The Crown,”) Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve,”) Laura Linney (“Ozark,”) and last year’s winner Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve.” It is worth noting that Comer set the previous record, having won the 2019 award at age 26) to claim the top prize.
Nevertheless, she clinched the upset win to the pleasant surprise of everyone, which resulted in immense celebration and confusion online. The New York Post’s choice of branding her win as an “upset” in one of their headlines led to backlash as many users accused the paper of racial bias. However, others argued that “upset” did not refer to a disappointing victory, but an unexpected result.
Either way, Zendaya seemed as shocked as everyone else when Kimmel announced her victory, crying tears of joy as the Emmy statue was handed to her. “This is pretty crazy, I don’t normally cry, whoa!” she laughed as she gave a shoutout to her fellow nominees.
In addition to becoming the youngest winner of this Emmy, Zendaya also became the second Black woman to win this specific award in history. Viola Davis previously won it for “How to Get Away with Murder” in 2015. Her victory feels especially special in a year of renewed calls for diversity and inclusion at award shows. Along with Zendaya, nineteen additional awards were awarded to Black performers, which is a major step forward for the Emmy’s.
“Euphoria” is an American teen drama hailing from HBO that examines a group of high school students as they navigate an often cruel world of sex, drugs, relationships, trauma, and personal identity. Zendaya plays the role of Rue, a recovering drug addict who spends the first season trying to establish her own place in the world. She conveys Rue’s pain and regrets perfectly, giving the character’s persona both heartbreaking and realistic undertones rarely found in other performances. The show garnered many positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, and everyone praised Zendaya’s haunting performances in particular. HBO already renewed the show for a second season, which will presumably release in late 2021.
The show does offer a bleak outlook on society in general, which feels quite relevant in the dark times we are living in today. Zendaya acknowledges that in her acceptance speech, saying “This is a really weird time to be celebrating but I just want to say that 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 for young people. To my peers out there doing work in the streets, I see you, I admire you, I thank you.”