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Zendaya makes Television Academy history

By Ronan Long

After a historic Emmy night, Ronan Long discusses Zendaya as a star on the rise.

This year’s Emmy awards faced significant pressure; an experiment into a return to unusual-business-as-usual in the arts and culture awards circuit. 

With many surprising voting choices by the Television Academy, Zendaya’s win arguably represented the biggest upset, setting a new record for the youngest winner in the history of the Lead Actress in a Drama Series category, breaking the only one year old record set by Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer the previous year. 

Among other big winners were father and son Dan and Eugene Levy’s slow-burn success Schitt’s Creek, with another surprise win for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Annie Murphy, as well as HBO, a Television Academy darling, coming out on top with big wins for Watchmen and Succession. The theme of the night seemed to be clear: forward motion, in a year where so much feels stationary. 

The Academy voters seem to have favoured progressive energy, championing young and atypical nominees, as shown by Zendaya. In her awards speech given via video conferencing, she was surrounded by friends and family, and she affirmed “there is hope in the young people”. Set to appear in a supporting, yet significant, role in Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune adaptation, and with Netflix reportedly forking out $30m for Sam Levinson’s drama Malcolm & Marie, starring Zendaya alongside Tenet’s John David Washington, last night may just have tipped the young actor from the precipice of industry superstardom to a firmly central figure in the Hollywood zeitgeist. 

But the Television Academy has received critical responses who claim this historic year for Black entertainers represents a descent into a culture of marginal tokenism, particularly in light of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ new diversity and inclusion Best Picture eligibility requirements. For some, HBO’s Euphoria (for which Zendaya took home the award), did not represent an awards calibre project. Unfavourable comparisons to Channel 4’s Skins spring to mind. For some, Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show or Laura Linney in Ozark — both favourites to take home another win for their respective streaming studios — represented more standard candidates for industry recognition. And yet the statue now sits on Zendaya’s mantle, whether Twitter likes it or not. 

Any derision of the Academy voters may well be subject to personal criticism of Zendaya’s performance, perhaps you may dislike the show itself, perhaps you may be convinced of some woke agenda from which she benefits – and yet the immutable fact remains, that Zendaya turned in an outstanding, career-best performance, and was rewarded for it. May there be many more.


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