Zendaya won the gold statuette for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama—making her, at age 24, the youngest performer to receive the award after Jodie Comer set the record last year at age 26. She is also only the second Black woman to win the award, after Viola Davis in 2015.
In Euphoria, which premiered on HBO last year, the former Disney star plays Rue, a teenager struggling to manage her bipolar disorder and drug addiction, with transfixing conviction and fragility. Zendaya also contributed vocals to the show’s finale, which features a haunting dance sequence.
It’s hard to imagine another young performer who could bring the simultaneous wryness and charisma needed to bring a character like Rue to life. In Zendaya’s hands, the character is as lovable as she is troubled—brilliant and imperfect, sometimes even frustrating. Rue can be funny, too—but Zendaya, ever a master of dramatic tension, keeps her character on a tightrope, making persistently clear that another heartbreaking relapse always seems to lurk right around the corner.
Zendaya’s commitment, versatility, and emotional range make her performance more than worthy of this historic distinction. But Euphoria garnered little Emmy recognition outside technical categories like original dramatic score and outstanding contemporary costumes—which made a victory for Zendaya seem more remote. The series also was completely snubbed at the Golden Globes.
And for the first hour and a half, Sunday’s Emmys did largely celebrate a handful of expected shows: Watchmen, Succession, and especially Schitt’s Creek dominated the night. All of these shows are deserving winners—but the most satisfying winners are often the ones you don’t expect.