Black love is beautiful, but at the same time, it can also be complicated. Netflix’s COVID-19 production, Malcolm & Marie, starring Zendaya and John David Washington, written/directed by Sam Levinson (Euphoria), uniquely captures that premise.
The film’s entirety takes place in one setting (Zendaya’s actual home) and revolves around Malcolm & Marie. Things pick up after the couple attends Malcolm’s new movie’s premiere, which is poised to be his breakout film and put him on the path to filmmaking.
What is supposed to be a celebratory moment for Malcolm quickly dissolves into a long night of heated exchanges between the couple over various issues kicked off by Marie, who has been bothered by something she witnessed while at the premiere festering in the back of her mind the entire night.
After the first argument, it’s a series of moments that look like they will spell doom for the couple. Mixed are some flashes of love between Malcolm and Marie that give us a glimpse of what the couple looks like when things are good, giving them a reason to fight for their relationship.
Cassius Life spoke with the film’s stars and director (socially distanced, of course) and inquired if Zendaya and John David both had experience with the kind of rocky love on full display in the film since they both put their feet in these roles. Zendaya spoke for both of them, revealing neither she nor Washington had to deal with the kind of relationship issues Malcolm and Marie face. Still, as an actress, she welcomed the challenge of experiencing something new when taking on the role.
“We try our best to deal with things in a very, very different way than these two characters deal with, with this kind of confrontation,” said Zendaya. “They have their own ways of dealing with things, and I think that’s the fun part about being an actor, you know? You get to do things you probably wouldn’t ever actually do, and you inhabit someone else’s space and live life through their eyes and their kind of lens and do things that don’t feel right.”
“It’s a different way of handling things. I don’t necessarily want to do it that way. I try not to judge them either for the way they choose to express themselves,” she further added.
Based on her performance in the film, you couldn’t tell that was the case. Critics are already saying her performance as Marie could land her an Academy Award. We also asked if the acting duo considered Malcolm and Marie’s relationship toxic or a uniquely complicated one? A question we can already see Black/relationship Twitter having a serious debate about. Washington quickly chose the latter when responding to the question pointing out the different anger tones expressed during Malcolm and Marie’s many arguments.
“The intellectual aspect of the relationship is what I loved,” Washington explained. “It was messy, with some of the curse words, the n-words that are flown out there because we’re different, we’re not just one thing. That’s what I loved that was explored in both of these characters. That you could have an intelligent, passionate argument, you can yell but be very clear about what you’re saying. You can be quiet and be the meanest.”
“Playing with the tone, playing with rhythm when trying to convey certain messages. The secondary action of eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese that’s really directed towards your partner, the aggressiveness. I found that he was like an animal when he was in that moment because he felt like he was losing. He was getting called out. All those imperfections and sometimes seeing characters being contradictory is what I find interesting. I definitely got lost in that.”
Speaking with the film’s director Sam Levinson, we asked him about his working relationship with Zendaya and if that played a role in helping pen the script for this film in astonishing six days. Levinson broke down the thought process that went into working on the script after Zendaya reached out to him and asked if they could make a movie, so Levinson decided he wanted this next role to be something we haven’t seen her in before that would challenge her.
“The thing that I love about Z is she loves a challenge,” Levinson says while opening up. “I asked myself, what have I not seen her do? Because I also know from working with Z for about a year and a half that there is nothing she can’t do and that if you underestimate her, she is going to prove you wrong. I know she’s got a high standard, and I was just trying to write to the standard.”
Levinson was also quick to point out the same applied to John David Washington.
“Look same for JD as well, about six hours into writing on the first day, he’s the only voice I heard he’s the only actor I thought, and I loved his work in Monsters and Men and BlacKkKlansmen. I worked with his sister Katia Washington as a producer on a number of projects, so I called him after day one, and I was like, you want to go from the biggest movie of the year to the smallest movie of the year? He was in, and I kept going cause suddenly I kept going.”
We also inquired about the film’s production, which happened in the middle of a pandemic in secret. It was also bankrolled by both Zendaya and Washington, with backend going to charity and key crew members, Levin revealed to us. Finally, we had to ask about the movie’s great use of black and white film and the amazing shots which he credited to Marcell Rév, whom he also works with on the HBO original series Euphoria which also stars Zendaya, and whether or not he sees movies with such as Malcolm & Marie becoming more of the norm in Hollywood, even after the pandemic ends.
“That’s Marcell Rév, the Hungarian wunderkind, my closest collaborator. I love that man. He is just a master with light. There is nothing he can’t do,” Levinson boasted about the cinematographer.
“Shooting on black and white film, it’s such beautiful stock. It requires an enormous amount of light, a lot of choreography. We have to know exactly where we are going because if an area is not lit, it will not show up on camera. So we did a lot of rehearsal, a lot of movement, knowing where we’re going to be, but yeah, that’s Marcel. He’s a genius,” Levinson further stated.
Malcolm & Marie is a polarizing piece of art that will spark plenty of discussions. We already assumed as much because the film’s trailer sparked criticism about Zendaya (24) playing John David Washington’s (36) love interest and the age gap between them, with some people going as far to say an older Black actress should have been cast. Zendaya addressed that issue in an interview with Entertainment Tonight Canada. The actress understood why some people would be bothered by the casting but basically told folks she is a grown woman at the end of the day.
Malcolm & Marie is Zendaya’s film, that’s clear as day from the moment it begins as she takes command of the role. So get used to it because Zendaya shows she will be a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood for the foreseeable future. You can step into both interviews above and below.
Photo: Malcolm & Marie – Production Stills / DOMINIC MILLER/NETFLIX © 2021