Zendaya Confronts Malcolm & Marie Critics Upset White Director Made It

“John David, I, and Sam equally own this film,” Zendaya says. “It’s not like it belongs to someone else and I just got cast in it.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Zendaya said her “agency was stripped away” in the wake of outrage over “Malcolm & Marie” being written and directed by a white filmmaker. Zendaya’s “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson is credited as the writer and director of “Malcolm & Marie,” but Zendaya maintains her voice and perspective carried through into the film’s script. “Malcolm & Marie” drew largely negative reviews, with several reviewers criticizing Levinson’s writing of two Black characters.

“What’s interesting is I think a little bit of our agency was stripped away,” Zendaya said in reaction to the backlash. “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. marks. You can’t get those unless you actually do the job.”

Zendaya continued, “I think it also oddly mirrors a little bit of Marie’s plight, right? 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. 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.”

Levinson himself expressed similar sentiments shortly after the release of “Malcolm & Marie” at the start of February. When asked by Esquire UK if he had any worries about making “Malcolm & Marie” as a white man, Levinson responded, “No, because I have faith in the collaborative process and in my partners that if I write something that doesn’t feel true, that JD or Z don’t respond to or feel to be honest, that they are going to say something and we’ll work it out. I didn’t have anxiety in that sense because I have too much respect for the collaborative nature of filmmaking.”

The director added in a separate interview with The Independent, “There’s certain things that I’m not going to get 100-percent right about what it feels to be a Black creative, but what I can do is write what feels true to the character and have faith in the collaborative process of filmmaking.”

Zendaya is nominated for Best Actress at the Critics Choice Awards for her performance in “Malcolm & Marie,” which is now streaming on Netflix. Head over to The New York Times to read the actress’ latest interview in its entirety.

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