Before delivering a groundbreaking and soul-crushing performance in Euphoria – a role that would make Zendaya the youngest Emmy-winning actress in history – the star already faced the banality of fame. Being offered roles in dozens makes her one of the most coveted emerging actresses of our generation, a trait that certainly breaks the Disney star image associated with the 24-year-old since her days from K.C. Undercover.
But despite the immeasurable Marvel success and the Emmy-winning performance, Zendaya still faces one ingrained Hollywood dilemma: that of being treated as a prop or a secondary protagonist to her male co-stars.
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Zendaya Challenges Norms Only To Be Put Back in Square 1
No actor in recent history can command the respect or the authority over entire inter-generational audience demographies as Zendaya does. Her portrayal of the non-binary character, Rue Bennett, in HBO’s record-breaking show Euphoria, has turned heads throughout the industry, establishing her as a force to reckon with in the emerging socio-cultural era in film and television. Zendaya’s powerful on-screen presence combined with her indomitable talent then makes it difficult for one to imagine the actress finding herself in a difficult spot when being offered roles in projects.
“It’s not necessarily that any of [the scripts] were bad or something like that. I just felt like a lot of the roles that I was reading, specifically female roles, were just like, I could have played them all as the same person and it wouldn’t have mattered, if that makes sense. The best way to describe it is just like, they’d usually serve the purpose of helping the male character get to where they need to go, do what they need to do.
They don’t really have an arc of their own. And they usually feel very one-dimensional in the sense that there’s not a lot of layers to them, meaning they all seem very kind of like the same person over and over and over again. It would have been great and it would have been fine, but I wouldn’t have grown at all.”
Also read: “I just hope for a little bit of joy”: Zendaya Hints She’s Unhappy With Her Euphoria Character After Reports of $1M Per-Episode Salary in Season 3
Zendaya spoke about her concerns during her GQ February cover story in 2021. Stepping out of the pandemic and already heading for the launch of Spider-Man: No Way Home later that year, Zendaya’s claims seem more outrageous by the second for the lack of opportunities that are made available for young and rising actresses who have far more to offer than catalyze the bildungsroman of their male counterparts.
Zendaya Makes Malcolm & Marie Her Hollywood Manifesto
Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, the radically talented filmmaker who is crossing boundaries in the on-screen portrayal of teenage lives and coming-of-life drama, was the first to have a sit-down chat with Zendaya about the recurring industry problem that haunted the young actress and the star of his HBO show. Throughout 2020, the Spider-Man: Homecoming star claims to have rejected roles that consistently offered her, to put it bluntly, the part of a pawn in a man’s narrative.
Also read: Hollywood’s Heartthrob Zendaya Has No Intentions to Steal Spider-Man Role From Tom Holland To Play the First-Ever Female Spider-Man in MCU
From their conversation were born two concepts: one of a psychological horror drama that would trace Zendaya’s path back to her Disney’s K.C. Undercover days and another that was much stronger and more impactful in its message of love, trust, and intimacy: Malcolm & Marie. With stunning cinematography, the tale charts the fate of the titular characters’ relationship as they face a reckoning throughout one tumultuous night of their life.
In the film, Zendaya is not simply powerful – she absolutely commands the entire narrative. Sam Levinson understands the actress’s range, her limits, and her abilities and uses them excruciatingly well to make her as much of the protagonist of the tale as John David Washington is. And in that, the Netflix film stands out and stands apart in establishing the 24-year-old as a singular talent.
Malcolm & Marie is available for streaming on Netflix. Euphoria is streaming on HBO Max.