Asking for me. I mean, there was a point to the age gap in casting if you watched the movie.
When Zendaya came to the Met Ball with that glowing Cinderella dress, forever saying goodbye to the Disney foundation that had begun her career, I knew a change was coming. I could’ve never imagined, however, the career that has unfolded since. Zendaya’s work with Sam Levinson on the show Euphoria and now the movie Malcolm and Marie is the career most will only dream of. Not only successful, but filled with gigs that convey real experiences that many live out every day. I don’t know about you but my high school experience was way less High School Musical kids dancing in PG-13 broadway numbers, and way more Euphoria house parties infused with sex and drugs. But is the Malcolm & Marie film a real experience that a Black couple would live? Eh….
Alright, let’s start off with the hardest part.
A lot of what John David Washington’s character, the hotep known as Malcolm, said was written by a white man from a privileged family of Hollywood royalty who will never know what it’s like to be Black in Hollywood, successful or not. I get that many have a problem with the monologues of Malcolm because they were written in a way that we as Black people probably wouldn’t say. Or were just things we wouldn’t need to explain to a Black partner. Code-switching or not.
So many ‘Black things’ felt forced or uncommon. For instance, two millennials who are arguing and using their smartphones to play songs to annoy their partners aren’t going to repeatedly refer to songs that were made 40–50 years before they were born. I love Dionne Warwick, but I’m going to think of Big Sean’s I Don’t Fuck With You (IDFWU) to call my partner out of their name to a nice beat first every time. Oh, those angry moments…
Why does Malcolm’s character have these long bursts of anger over the plight of the Black entertainer in Hollywood? This is something Black people have dealt with and seen before we were old enough to know our own names. We know what’s going to happen when the audience at large views our art and we know what they’re going to say when they try to relate to us. These dashes of sly and R&B didn’t turn me completely off of the movie, but I was very much aware this movie was written with color-blind casting in mind, then quickly threw in the word ‘nigga’ (Without the hard R) a few times and some Motown tunes to make the movie more Black.
Making a movie with color-blind casting isn’t going to look just right when the actors cast are Black and the words are white interpretation of the Black experience. We as an audience cannot ask Sam Levinson to make a Black movie because he does not know the Black experience. Can’t ask Levinson to give something that he doesn’t know anything about. I’m glad he has more common sense than writers and directors of the past who leave their Black characters sounding like troped jive turkeys, gangstas, or angry Black women who are angry for no reason. No, it wasn’t a long cry away from it, but he tried and I see the effort.
Malcolm & Marie wasn’t supposed to be the cute Black movie where they hold hands as they walk across the Mason Dixie Line to freedom following the North Star. Nor was it supposed to be a modern urban piece where Malcolm stands on a stage in a jazz club asking Marie if he’s the blues in her left thigh trying to become the funk in her right.
So why did I like it?
Malcolm & Marie is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf for the millennial generation. A toxic, detrimentally toxic, relationship of two people who are completely co-dependent on each other for survival. Part of what makes this relationship so detrimental is their age gap. We all know a man or woman who consistently dates people who are a little too young for them. Not R. Kelly predatory young, but young enough to get side glances since their high school diplomas have the freshness seal still intact. Malcolm had to be noticeably much older than Marie to portray the plot of the story. The age of the actors cast helped the story. Fuck all the tweets and the comments; if you saw the movie, you got it.
Malcolm’s character was…a lot. I know Black men who suck all of the life out of Black women to fuel their own creative juices. Hello, yes, every man who dons on a wig while they snap their necks, their lips, and does an eye roll for comedic effect I’m talking to you. Imitating a Black woman or dating a racially ambiguous Black woman is a path that has lead to more money for many men. And Malcolm’s character knows that by keeping Marie needed he is keeping her around, and thus creating inspiration for his career.
There are Black men who constantly need to be affirmed as they struggle to make a place for themselves in this world by Black women yet do very little if nothing at all to affirm those same souls; much the same as Malcolm did with Marie. Will eat a whole Christmas dinner and walk out of the door without saying a word of thanks. Damn that bowl of macaroni and cheese. As Malcolm gobbled those GMO pasta noodles I couldn’t help but think that many Black men have the same ideologies as Malcolm because so many Black men believe that the life of freedom they hope to acquire is to have everything a cis straight white male has in this world. And are so narcissistic they cannot see anyone or anything that doesn’t contribute to this dream of white wealth and success for themselves.
Not only does Malcolm hold all of these qualities but the level of reading, shade, and dragging he exhibited to Marie was legendary. I know not only Black men who have done this, but all types of men. They hold in all the pain, all the thoughts, and just take care of everybody’s needs. Then once everyone is ok out pops these sociopathic feelings in boughs of rage that they should’ve shared months and years ago. But they didn’t, because the person needed help. But now that everything is ok, they don’t want to talk about it or go to therapy, they just wanted to get it off of their chests…in order to hurt the people closest to them.
Every time Malcolm eviscerated Marie my heart ached for her. The story we’ve heard or seen in more ways than we can count. The woman who is so much more talented, so much stronger, and is a 10 when her partner is maybe a strong 5. Marie doesn’t see it. As the story continues and the backstory evolves it's evident that Marie has never had anyone who respected or valued her. This is not the first man to hold her face to the ground. Every argument for her substance of worth is challenged and defeated by her partner. Then she crumbles under him. Every moment of hesitation or self-doubt is met with a question as to why Malcolm should be concerned. Then she walks away to sulk in misery. Her triumphs are squashed with memories of past experiences Malcolm knew he needed to remember for this, to keep her chained to his side. That’s learned behavior over a lifetime and didn’t start with this relationship.
The demons of her past are long gone physically but they are ever-present in her mind. And all the more so coaxed to life whenever Malcolm needs them for his own agenda. I don’t care how many times he hid the nail scissors or how many times he bought her flowers after she got out of rehab. He doesn’t love her.
Who the fuck holds past suicide attempts in their partner’s face and then has the ‘creative genius’ to put it in the movie loosely based on her life to hold it over her head until the end of time?
But he needs her. Malcolm is running through the house screaming for her if she just so happens to take a piss and smoke a cigarette out of his presence for longer than sixty seconds. Part of that fear is no doubt steeped in a system of repetition to make sure his addict girlfriend did not meet the same fate as his drug-induced jailbaits of the past. It's also him knowing that the second this woman realizes how amazing she is, she’s gone.
That’s why I liked it.
I know a few Malcolms and I know a few Maries. Take away the strewn racial context there is a woman not far away from where you are right now who is not being physically abused, so she thinks she can survive the relationship that barely lets her breathe on her own. In more ways than I’d like to admit I’ve been that girl in past relationships. And it’s always nice to know that even though I am the farthest thing from a Jewish, legacy, former addict, growing into a talented writer and director in Hollywood some of the thoughts and experiences I have had as a Black person in this country, somewhere, can relate to someone else.
Because we as a society are not used to seeing two Black main characters in a movie that don’t know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they walk to freedom. And Hollywood still hasn’t caught on to the fact that there are thousands of Black writers, curators, and historians happily sitting at home in this pandemic who could give their pieces the dash of Black excellence they need to make them more authentic. So let’s just enjoy the beautiful Kodak panoramic views in this movie while eating our homemade oven-baked macaroni and cheese. Until the day when they don’t assume what Black people would say or do. But they just ask us, and we’ll tell it.