With any work of art, some will love it, and then there are those who will pick at it from every angle possible. Netflix’s “Malcolm & Marie,” starring actress Zendaya and actor John David Washington, appear to be facing that very struggle.
After being criticized over the age difference between the two actors, the film, which explores the complexities of a romantic relationship, is now being called out for having a white director, Sam Levinson, behind the lens of a movie with a Black lead.
During a recent interview with The New York Times, Zendaya addressed the backlash. The former Disney star explained that she and Washington worked alongside Levinson throughout the film’s writing and production to ensure a tale about the Black experience was accurately told. Still, she felt as though her “agency was stripped away” by film’s critics, despite being co-financiers and co-producers on the project.
“Like this was just kind of Sam spewing things through us without realizing that we are not only actors in this, but we’re co-financiers and producers with P.G.A. [Producers Guild of America] marks,” the 24-year-old actress explained. “You can’t get those unless you actually do the job.”
The “Euphoria” star noted that, oddly, the film’s negative review “mirrors a little bit” of her character’s struggles in the movie. “It’s like Marie saying the whole movie [Malcolm’s film] is also mine. But actually, in real life, we do have the credit, this is ours, and John David, I, and Sam equally own this film,” she explained. “It’s not like it belongs to someone else, and I just got cast in it. He wrote it for us too, and I think if you’re going to write something, you have to acknowledge experiences of the [Black] character you’re writing. I thought a lot of conversations I had with Sam came through.”
Zendaya came to the film’s defense prior to its release on Netflix,after many called out the 12-year age gap between herself and Washington, who is 36. The actress said during an interview on E!’s “Daily Pop” that “I’ve played a 16-year-old since I was 16,” explaining that fans have struggled to separate her from her Disney background and acknowledged that she is now an adult. She added, “It’s hard for people to wrap around the idea that I am grown in real life.”
Washington also addressed the backlash, revealing that he learned a lot from his co-star although he was older. “People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is,” he said at the time. “She has far more experience than I do in the industry. I’ve only been in it for seven years, so I’m learning from her.”