Zendaya is defending “Euphoria” against criticism of the show’s portrayal of drug addiction among high school students.
The show, which focuses on a group of teens struggling to figure out life, is a raw portrait of addiction and anxiety. In it’s latest episode, which aired Sunday on HBO, Zendaya’s character, Rue, who struggles with her sobriety, is seen running around town, escaping cops and criminals as her friends and family try to help her.
“It was so intense and scary to tackle,” Zendaya told Entertainment Weekly in an interview. “And obviously something that would be incredibly emotionally taxing, but also physically taxing.”
The heart-pounding episode, titled “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” garnered mixed reactions, with some praising the actress’s performance, but other critics calling the show out for glamorizing drug use.
The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E., initially released a statement on Tuesday criticizing the show’s content for “erroneously” depicting “destructive behaviors” among high school students.
Zendaya responded to D.A.R.E.’s statement, saying “Euphoria” isn’t glorifying teen drug use and addiction.
“Our show is in no way a moral tale to teach people how to live their life or what they should be doing,” she said. “If anything, the feeling behind ‘Euphoria,’ or whatever we have always been trying to do with it, is to hopefully help people feel a little bit less alone in their experience and their pain. And maybe feel like they’re not the only one going through or dealing with what they’re dealing with.”
The anti-drug group disagreed with the actress and questioned why the show’s producers built the story around a group of high school students.
“These statements may help them believe there is no reason for concern,” D.A.R.E. told ABC News in a statement. “However, if the producers of the show truly do not want high school students, or even younger audiences to watch it or be impacted by it, why build the story around high school students rather than, for example, a workplace environment.”
Erica Souter, an author and parenting expert, said she sees how difficult it can be to allow kids to watch “Euphoria.”
“I don’t know one parent who isn’t completely freaked out,” she said. “Not because they think it glamorizes alcohol, drugs and sex. It actually just alerts them as to what teens might be up to. And that’s really scary.”
Zendaya, who won an Emmy in 2020 for her portrayal of Rue in the show, understands how “Euphoria” can be triggering to some struggling with addiction. In the past, she has warned her fans to not tune in if they are struggling with sobriety.
“Please only watch if you feel you can handle it,” she wrote in an Instagram post before the show’s premiere in 2019. “Do what’s best for you. I will still love you and feel your support.”
Ahead of the show’s season 2 premiere in January, Zendaya reached out to fans, reiterating that “Euphoria" included mature content.
“This season, maybe even more so than the last, is deeply emotional and deals with subject matter that can be triggering and difficult to watch,” she wrote on Instagram. “Please only watch it if you feel comfortable.”
Zendaya said that she hopes that “Euphoria” helps people “heal and grow” with Rue.
“My biggest hope is that people are able to connect to it and those who need to heal and grow with Rue hopefully, by the end of this season, feel that hope and feel that change in her,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people reach out and find so many parallels from all ages, all walks of life. So many parallels with Rue and her story and Rue means a lot to them in a way that I can understand, but also maybe in a way that I could never understand, and that means the most to all of us.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA's National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.