Whether you’ve been a fan of Zendaya from her early days on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up or you’ve only recently became a fan from her role as Rue on Sam Levinson’s Euphoria, you probably already know the multi-talented actress made history on Sunday night by being the youngest woman to win an Emmy award for lead actress in a drama series.
The scene was quite emotional, with her friends and family sitting behind her and bursting into screams and tears when her name was announced. The other nominated actresses, including Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Oh and Olivia Colman, were also cheering her on, as if they all knew the 24-year-old actress/producer/model/singer/dancer deserved to win.
If you happened to catch Zendaya’s role as Rue in the first season of Euphoria last year, you might understand why she won. Her portrayal of the teen, who struggles with mental health issues as well as immense addiction problems, was phenomenal, to say the least.
The emotional scene in which she begs Fez (Angus Cloud), her drug dealer, to give her more drugs by banging incessantly on his door just might have been the scene that won her the Emmy. Another award-winning performance is the scene in which Rue behaves like a detective to try and figure out what happened between Jules, her love interest, and Nate, an acquaintance of hers.
And then there is the entire last episode, which will leave you in tears even if you’re not usually one to cry over TV shows, which I can attest to. The show dives deep into the psyche of Rue, and Zendaya killed it, allowing the audience to step outside of their own reality and join Rue in her journey for eight episodes. Basically, Zendaya’s hard work and talent made us all love and care for Rue like a sister.
This isn’t the first time Zendaya has impressed us with her talents. When she was starring on Disney Channel’s iconic series K.C. Undercover in 2015, she also attended the MET Gala, which is a major accomplishment for an 18-year-old Disney Channel star.
Jumping from Disney straight to the big screen, many of us remember her from her role as MJ in the 2017 movie Spider-Man: Homecoming or as Anne in the 2017 musical film The Greatest Showman. Zendaya never failed to amaze in either film. Even Hugh Jackman was impressed by her talent, as he should be. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Zendaya described how Jackman called her “a badass” just before she was about to practice a major trapeze stunt for her role as Anne. Jackman wasn’t wrong— the power Zendaya displayed as she swung from those ropes was immaculate.
However, her artistic work isn’t the only reason fans love Zendaya, and this Emmy award isn’t her first major success in the face of the patriarchy.
While she was still on Disney Channel, Zendaya pushed for more representation. In a 2017 Vogue magazine interview, Zendaya explained that in order for her to agree to sign onto K.C. Undercover, she demanded that she be given a role as producer of the show. She also demanded that the show center on a Black family, and that K.C. break typical gender roles and do martial arts instead of singing or dancing.
“There are other things that a girl can be,” she said during the interview.
Her work didn’t stop there. Just last year, Zendaya hosted a Tommy Hilfiger show and casted an all-Black modeling crew in order to thank the Black women who came before her. Following the killing of George Floyd this year, Zendaya used her platform to conduct an interview with Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, to discuss activism and help Cullors reach a wide audience.
In that interview, Zendaya was candid about her struggles with anxiety. This commitment to honesty and positivity, and her overall goofy personality in interviews, is part of the reason why so many of us “stan” Zendaya. In an interview with Vogue, she admits that with a full day off she would do absolutely nothing — and said she stays home watching Harry Potter movies all day to unwind, something many of us can relate to.
Following suit with her way of bringing attention to important issues, Zendaya mentioned activism as she was accepting her award. “There is hope in the 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,” she said during her speech.
In an Instagram post on Monday, Zendaya said she still could not wrap her head around the win, but we all know she is well deserving of such praise. After all, so many of us grew up watching her success, her major defeats of sexism, her powerful characters and her incredible portrayal of Rue, while also feeling connected to her as a strong woman and relatable member of this generation.