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Zendaya Responds After D.A.R.E. Slams ‘Euphoria’ for ‘Glorifying’ Drugs: Show Is Not a ‘Moral Tale’

The HBO series can "hopefully help people feel a little bit less alone in their experience and their pain," Zendaya clarified.

Zendaya, "Euphoria"

Zendaya, “Euphoria”

HBO

Emmy winner Zendaya is standing her ground when it comes to the portrayal of teen drug use on HBO’s “Euphoria.”

The viral hit series centers on Rue (Zendaya), a drug addict whose stash is discovered by her family in the February 6 episode, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” culminating in an intervention after Rue almost overdoses multiple times.

A representative for anti-drug campaign D.A.R.E. previously told TMZ that Season 2 of “Euphoria” has “misguidedly and erroneously” depicted high schoolers using drugs, leading to “addiction, anonymous sex, violence, and other destructive behaviors as common and widespread in today’s world.”

The statement also reads, “It is unfortunate that HBO, social media, television program reviewers, and paid advertising have chosen to refer to the show as ‘groundbreaking,’ rather than recognizing the potential negative consequences on school-age children who today face unparalleled risks and mental health challenges.”

Yet those challenges and widespread behavior are precisely why Zendaya, who also is an executive producer on “Euphoria,” says the series should portray drug use, to fully reflect modern-day challenges for teens.

“Our show is in no way a moral tale to teach people how to live their life or what they should be doing. 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,” Zendaya told Entertainment Weekly. “And maybe feel like they’re not the only one going through or dealing with what they’re dealing with.”

Nika King, who plays Zendaya’s onscreen mother, said, “It’s definitely not pretty at all, but [showrunner] Sam [Levinson] realized that that needs to be seen. We need to see this Bennett family really go through it because that’s the only way the audience and people who are also going through this in real life understand. And they’re like, ‘Wow, this is authentic. This is real.'”

Levinson mined his own “deeply, deeply personal story” with teen addiction to create the series.

“I spent the majority of my teenage years in and out of hospitals, rehabs and halfway houses. I was a drug addict, and I’d take anything and everything until I couldn’t hear or breathe or feel,” creator, co-writer, co-director, and producer Levinson said at the 2019 premiere, as reported by Variety.

Rue’s experiences, to an extent, mirror Levinson’s past.

“It really spooked me in a sense that if I were to die today, who would I be? I’m a thief. I’m an addict. I’ve been shitty to almost every person in my life that I love,” Levinson said at the time. “There was this voice that was clear as day that said, ‘stop f–king doing drugs.’ I’ve been clean for 14 years.”

Now, as Rue’s journey onscreen culminates in an intervention, Zendaya added that it’s “really important that there’s light at the end of the tunnel” for the character.

“I think if we can still care about her after this, then I hope that other people can extend that to non-fictional characters, to real people, or just be a little bit more understanding and empathetic over the experience of addiction and what it does to people, what it does to their families,” Zendaya continued to EW. “I think [that intervention scene] just allowed me to just kind of release all of that. And I’m very grateful that I’m in a space where I feel comfortable and safe, and with actors and actresses that I’m obviously very close with. After every take, we’re hugging each other, we’re talking through it, we’re embracing, checking in, because obviously it’s like a war zone.”

Zendaya added it was a “very tough day” on set filming the emotional sequence. “I mean, I beat myself up,” the “Spider-Man: No Way Home” star added. “I still have some scars on my legs, and got quite a few bruises.”

Addiction is “just a really painful cycle to watch [Rue] go through,” Zendaya said. “She’s in the midst of a degenerative disease and it’s taking control of her life. And in many ways she feels out of control. She doesn’t have the ability to control her emotions, her body. And like I said, she’s in a lot of pain and I think we really wanted to see that viscerally and feel that pain and how much it inflicts upon other people who also have to love people who go through these things…We cut right into an intervention and it’s Rue just ripping her life apart and setting her life on fire and kind of tearing everything to the ground to basically come to hopefully what feels like rock bottom for her.”

Zendaya concluded, “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. 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 that means the most to all of us.”

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