Actress Zendaya says her “agency was stripped away” following backlash over her film about a black couple, Malcolm & Marie, which was written and directed by Sam Levinson, who is white.
The film received largely negative reviews and criticism over Levinson’s writing about two black characters, reported IndieWire. Zendaya, a producer on the movie, maintains that she was intimately involved in the script writing process. In an interview published Sunday, the New York Times asked Zendaya if there had been space for her and her co-star John David Washington “to collaborate and provide input on different aspects of the black experience.”
“Yeah, of course,” said Zendaya. “What’s interesting is I think a little bit of our agency was stripped away.”
“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,” the actress added. “You can’t get those unless you actually do the job.”
Zendaya also says her situation in having to work on the movie with a white director actually mirrors the plight that her character, Marie, goes through in the film. “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,” she said.
Malcolm & Marie is about “a director and his girlfriend’s relationship [being] tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics’ responses,” according to the film’s IMDb page.
“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,” Zendaya explained. “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.”
Earlier this month, Zendaya said that the film was shot in black and white in order to reclaim “the narrative of black and white Hollywood.” She described it as a tribute to the Hollywood Era “when black actors weren’t as present” on screen.