On the night of September 20, fans and celebrities alike crowded around their screens for the 2020 Emmy Awards. Several Black veterans, as well as a few newcomers, ended the night with an award, including Stan Lathan, Regina King, Uzo Aduba and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. One particular young performer grabbed public attention and support after winning one of the highest honors of the night—Zendaya Coleman, who won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Her win makes her the second Black woman to snag the award and the youngest person in history to win that particular award. Coleman’s victory reminds us to dream a bit bigger and also demand that Black people are celebrated more routinely.
Coleman, 24, received the Emmy for her 2019 portrayal of Euphoria’s Rue Bennett, a teenaged recovering-drug addict who claws her way through healing. Bennett vacillates between putting on a strong face and unraveling completely, a lifestyle that Black women know too much about, all while working her way down the road to recovery. People of all kinds were able to identity with either Bennett, or her loved ones, which is why the characters and show resonated as much as they did. So, it’s no surprise that Coleman ended the night with her first Emmy.
But in addition to shining a light on the plights of American youth, Coleman also helped those watching her see the value in pursuing more creative paths.
Young people are routinely told to turn away from their creative endeavors in pursuit of something more safe. Parents, peers and teachers can inadvertently discourage teens from going from expressive jobs because they are simply afraid. Coleman’s Emmy win, as well as the backstory that included having the full support of her family, is a cue to always believe in the talented young Black people around you.
Additionally, it’s no secret that Black actors are shut out from award opportunities, even when their excellence is deeply felt. For example, Issa Rae, who has undoubtedly helped shape what it means to be Black and helm your own material in this era, has not yet been awarded an Emmy. Coleman’s win is a reminder that we still have so far to go before Black genius is appreciated consistently.
Black people are gifted beyond measure. We owe it to ourselves, and the next generation, to honor our expressiveness, even when it doesn’t come packaged in a traditional manner. May Zendaya inspire us to continue being great, push for acknowledgment and walk in our purpose.
Photo credit: Emmys