Thoughts On “Malcolm & Marie” and White People Creating Black Characters

This is the third installment of Films of Freedom, a Black History Month series curated by The North Star to celebrate the artists that paved the way for Black creators today.

I didn’t really like “Malcolm & Marie”, the story of a toxic couple and their toxic argument that goes on for about two hours. 

It was a bit too long, and a bit too repetitive. 

It reminded me of the arguments I’d have with my little siblings that would end up being dragged out over an entire day, ignited and extinguished far too many times. The characters seemed to me, one-dimensional. The tension was carried solely by the great, albeit not my favorite, performances of Zendaya and John David Washington, who did the best they could with the subpar script they were given. 

I didn’t like the movie, but not because a white man created it. 

Writer and director Sam Levinson, best known for the HBO series “Euphoria”, in which Zendaya also serves as his muse, is a great filmmaker. His work is intriguing, even if it often relies on artsy cinematography and a dash of shock factor.

Still, I think he’s a good filmmaker. When I saw he was creating “Malcolm & Marie”, I was excited. 

The film had been released for less than 24 hours when the Twitter criticisms began rolling in. The problem with Twitter is that there are very few original thoughts and everyone's just trying to get retweeted. 

Controversy is what trends. It’s a toxic system. 

Using less than sound reasoning, people began to attack Sam Levison for casting Black actors in the film, as if to say he had no place to do so since he is not a Black man. 

On this, I call bullshit. 

Levinson wrote a deeply personal story that, like the majority of his work, has autobiographical elements. He worked alongside Zendaya in crafting the script and cast two of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood to play the characters. 

There was very little dialogue involving race, as that was not the focus of this film. But there was just enough commentary on race to where it didn’t feel as if Levison was ignoring the fact that his characters were Black. I’ll admit that the racial dialogue that was there aired on the side of being heavy-handed at times. There were moments that felt preachy, but still well-intentioned. 

The film world needs every type of Black movie. Movies where being Black is the focus of the narrative, and movies where racial struggles are not the sole purpose of the film. We need features on Black life during the Civil Rights Movement and animated films where the characters just happen to be Black. 

Both are necessary for broadening the spectrum in which people of color are portrayed in the media. 

While I will always prefer that a Black person create Black characters because chances are they will be more accurately portrayed, I know this will not always be the case. As an aspiring filmmaker and a Black woman, I myself will not always write Black characters.

I can only do my best to put in the work and research to do justice to characters outside of my experiences.