Walking out to the rapturous applause of a ‘filled’ Staples Centre, comedian and late-night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel looked calm, cool, and collected. Dressed in a traditional black, tailored tuxedo with a hint of swagger in his walk, the popular comic started his opening monologue with his typical tongue-in-cheek humour. ‘Hello and welcome to the pand-Emmys!’ After last year’s host-less ceremony you had to give it to ABC, Kimmel did look pretty comfortable at having the stage to himself again. ‘You know what they say, you can’t have a virus without a host!’
The camera shot panned off to Amy Poehler in an off-the-shoulder Theia ball gown laughing along with the packed-out auditorium. Hardcore Poehler fans would have picked up that she wore that exact dress to the Emmy Awards in 2014. That small detail was lost, however, as the confusion for the 5.1 million viewers who had tuned in to watch started to grow. Twitter had undoubtedly exploded. ‘I’m confused’ wrote @inSTANity924, ‘I thought this would be a virtual #Emmys. Is all of Hollywood really in the audience? Not a mask in sight!’
‘WTF,’ wrote @BethofBC. ‘There is no social distancing or masks at the #Emmys. I DON’T UNDERSTAND.’ Had America really pardoned the Covid-19 social-distancing rules for the Hollywood elite? Was the world being Punk’d?
“Why would you have an award show in the middle of a pandemic?” Kimmel went on to ask the ‘full-house’. Dropping the ruse several minutes into his monologue, ABC decided to show the stark reality of the host speaking to a completely empty auditorium, except for some cardboard cut-outs and Jason Bateman in clownish freezeframe. Yes, the shots to the crowd were from past award ceremonies. It was editing at its finest. We had all been hoodwinked.
With around 140 remote cameras beaming live to 100 plus different locations on Earth, the Emmys this year made the best out of a bad situation. A mass Zoom meeting—as if we haven’t had enough of them already—with a twist. Interns in Hazmat suits were dotted around the world to present the Emmys to the winners, and the nominees, coiffed up, dressed to the nines in their living rooms and sitting behind buffering broadband speeds, waited eagerly for the prestigious results to be announced.
Big names took the coveted golden statues this year like Canadian sitcom, Schitt’s Creek, which won nine prizes, breaking the record for the most wins in a single season for a comedy. American comedy-drama, Succession nabbed the top prize of the night for Outstanding Drama Series, as well as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Jeremy Armstrong. The highlight of the night (or should we say stream) was the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Award, which went to Zendaya at just age 24 for teen drama Euphoria, beating Hollywood favorites like Olivia Coleman, Jennifer Aniston and Laura Linney. The win made her the youngest star and second African-American woman ever to score the prestigious award.
“She’s younger than Baby Yoda and she already has an Emmy!” joked Kimmel. Zendaya, dressed in a crystal bandeau top and polka-dot skirt, appeared clearly stunned by the announcement, fighting back tears of joy as she accepted the award in her LA home, surrounded by her proud, teary-eyed family and friends.
“This is pretty crazy,” she said before thanking the Euphoria team and the incredible cast and crew she had worked alongside. “To Sam Levinson,” she said, “you’re my family. I’m so grateful for Rue and that you trusted me with your story, and that I can continue to do you proud.”
Euphoria, created by US filmmaker Sam Levinson (loosely based on the Israeli mini-series of the same name by Ron Leshem) is a revelation for a generation—an inside look to what it really means to be young and human in this always-changing world. Euphoria follows a group of teenagers riding the roller coaster of high-school—themes of sex, partying, friendship, drug addiction and trauma going hand-in-hand with the characters. Main protagonist, Rue, played by Zendaya, struggles to find her mark in the world after returning home from rehab, battling with an ongoing addiction to anxiety medication. With her dark brown eyes and wavy (often untamed) brown hair, she has a signature war-torn look about her from the opening scene. We meet her as a loner and she states in the pilot that the last time she was genuinely happy was back in the womb.
In an interview with America’s Entertainment Weekly, Levinson described how easy it felt in casting the lead character. He had had Zendaya in mind from the get-go, adding her name to the first mood-boards of the series before she was officially cast. “I had a meeting with [Zendaya] and we were just talking about life and various things. At that moment, I thought: oh, this is someone who has no ceiling. She, as an artist, can do anything.”
To encapsulate such a complex character, one would think the director would cast an actor who has been through the same sort of experiences. That was not the case with Levinson and Zendaya. She is so skilled and learned with her acting that he didn’t have to worry.
“Playing her as a character has opened me up in a lot of different ways and exposed a lot of things and emotions,” she explained to Deadline. “A role like that requires you to be a lot more open and a lot rawer with your emotions. If you aren’t, it won’t work.”
Born Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman in 1996, the star grew up in a very theatrical family with her mother working passionately as the House Manager for the Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda, California. The stage was where Zendaya spent most of her childhood, learning about the art of acting and taking part in several amateur plays. As well as acting, Zendaya was also a very keen dancer, performing in a hip-hop troupe called Future Shock for three years before taking off on her fantastic entertainment career.
In her early teens, Zendaya auditioned to become part of the Disney franchise, landing the role of Rocky Blue in sitcom Shake It Up! alongside Bella Thorne. It was there that she became a Disney darling. You know what they say about those darlings, though, and their time in this industry—high risk, even high rewards, but never without its sacrifices with many having their names somewhat tarnished due to their rebellious reputations after breaking-away from Disney. Zendaya never had that type of experience, though. She didn’t go off-the-rails, as childhood Disney stars sometimes do. She’s just that grounded.
“I think for me I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to do,” Zendaya proudly told Vogue Australia in March this year. “I had a particularly good sense of self and I think I also took a lot of lessons just from being in the industry for so long.” Working with that clear vision, she really showed the world who was boss. As well as a child-star with Disney, playing roles in Good Luck Charlie, A.N.T. Farm, and K.C. Undercover (in which she was also co-producer), Zendaya used her other talent as a singer, releasing her self-titled debut album in 2013. It would be remiss not to acknowledge that she has also been certified platinum for several of her single hits, some of which featured in her album. She released a debut book too, Between U and Me: How to Rock Your Tween Years with Style and Confidence in the same year and even released her own clothing line, Daya by Zendaya, in 2016. Dancer, actress, singer, author, fashionista—her achievements are great and well-deserved, alright.
It was in 2017 when Zendaya dipped her toes into her first feature-film, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, where she played alongside Tom Holland as Michelle ‘MJ’ Jones, shy classmate of Peter Parker. In this role she was labelled a ‘scene-stealer’ by Hollywood Reporter. Having gotten a taste for the big movie franchises, the young actress went on to star in Michael Gracey’s musical drama The Greatest Showman as trapeze artist extraordinaire Anne Wheeler.
“At the time, [the composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul] were up and coming,” Zendaya told The New York Times in 2017. “They hadn’t done La La Land yet. They played me a couple of the songs, including the one [‘Rewrite the Stars’] that I would sing with Zac. And I asked: ‘Hey, is it cool if I record my own voice on the record? I want to show you guys what I can do’. So, I played it for the director, and Michael loved it!”
As Gracey’s film was showing in cinemas, Zendaya was also working on her last Disney part as K.C. Undercover, having accepted the role after giving the producers some strong demands. Those demands were in regard to the lack of diversity she saw in the industry.
“There weren’t any leads or families of colour, and I felt like that was something that needed to happen. And I thought that the idea of a girl doing a ‘guy role’ was really important. Young women can look at the screen and see that they can be anything, that they can do it all. A little boy can look up to a girl and say, ‘I want to be like this girl’.”
Whether it be speaking out on diversity in the industry or in the wider world, Zendaya is certainly a leading voice for youth. Outspoken and courageous, Zendaya is the type of actress that is using her platform to be an advocate for care and social change. On her 18th birthday, when teens her age would be throwing parties and relaxing with friends, she spent it campaigning to help feed 150 hungry children in Haiti, Tanzania and the Philippines. “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one,” she said on her collaboration with Missouri-based charity, feedONE.
She didn’t stop there. Zendaya did and still does actively support several charities, like the American Heart Association, PETA, City Year and UNICEF, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement that is so vital in the world today.
“Black Lives Matter does not mean that any other lives do not matter,” Zendaya said to a reporter at the Fashion Fair. “It just means that right now, in our world, the light that needs to be shined is on black lives. That’s what we need to do. We need to raise our voices and make it known.”
In August this year, whilst talking to Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Zendaya said that she ‘didn’t know what to do to help’ during the aftermath of the George Floyd shooting. “That’s when I reach out to people like you. Because at the end of the day, I’m just an actress, you know? And I don’t pretend to be anything other than that. If I don’t know something, then I ask people who are actually on the front lines doing the work. I’m up in the bleachers, not on the field. So I always think, How can I cheer you on and be a part of something greater than myself?”
With her jam-packed diary of helping to make social change, winning Emmys or wowing the world with her acting chops, the upcoming sci-fi epic, Dune, will see Zendaya acting in a completely new light. A two-part adaptation of the 1965 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert, it is set to be huge when it hits cinema screens globally.
“Dune was incredible,” the Emmy-winning actress told America’s InStyle magazine. “…It is a big deal to even be a small part of something with such a massive cast. And I love sci-fi stuff too. It’s fun to escape into another world.”
Set in the future, the Duke Leto Atreides (played by Guatemalan-American, Oscar Isaac) moves to the dangerous and deserted planet of Arrakis, also known as Dune, with his superhuman mistress, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet). The planet is the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe, known as ‘the spice’. It’s also home to the Fremen, people endemic to this faraway world. Zendaya plays Chani, a mysterious Freman native and Paul’s love interest. This film is set to be huge, with an ensemble cast of Hollywood legends, such as Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.
Since first appearing on our TV screens as a fresh-faced Rocky Blue in 2010, Zendaya stole our hearts away with her impressive talent. A decade later, the joy and pride on her face when handed her first Emmy win was priceless. It goes to show that, through years of hard-work, following your dreams, choosing the right path and making a name in whatever makes you feel most alive and worthy in this world certainly has its merits. It’s safe to say that Zendaya earned her merits and will continue to be the personification of that exact lesson for years to come.
“You don’t have to be older to live your dreams; you can do it at any age. It’s possible.”