White Filmmakers’ Relationships With Race: The Problem With Malcom & Marie

Annabelle Underdown

Malcom & Marie (2021), written and directed by Sam Levinson, the creator of the critically acclaimed series Euphoria, is a film that attempts to depict the volatility of relationships. However, the potential to explore the complexities of a relationship connected to drug addiction and fame, is superseded by Levinson’s incessant pursuit of presenting viewers with his own self-indulgent perspectives on cinema.

it is impossible to separate the dialogue from its writer

Levinson uses Malcom, (John-David Washington) as a mouthpiece to inflict his nonsensical opinions about black cinema and film criticism. This is most evident in a notably arduous and tedious monologue in which Malcom complains about critics within the industry.

Malcom’s first monologue discusses the immediate politicisation of black cinema and how critics praise and interact with this. It is effective in examining the consumption of black cinema. However, it is impossible to separate the dialogue from its writer; Levinson, which draws into question the very credibility of these claims when they come from an affluent white man. The film feels like a white man using a self-insert character to validate his own victim complex by projecting race onto the baseless surface.

One of the more questionable scenes in the film is when Malcom unequivocally claims that the paramount success of Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight (2016) is because of Jenkin’s heterosexuality. Through this alone, Levinson’s true intensions are exposed. Moonlight (2016) was co-written by both Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney; an openly gay black man, and the writer of the script’s adapted material, the play; In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

Both Jenkins and Alvin McCraney won Oscars for their adapted screenplay in 2017. Levinson’s ignorance to this, whether intentional or not, reflects the continuous neglect Hollywood inflicts upon black creatives behind the camera. It demonstrates the uninformed and voyeuristic nature of Levinson’s decisions to interact with discourse of this kind.

Levinson is using his position of privilege to narrate a black love story

Another fundamental failure of the film is the lack of harmony between the visuals and the script. The film reads like a play, so it should be visually comparable to one. The visual artistic choices work in abstract from the script. Despite this, the cinematography and framing choices, especially the use of mirrors to reflect the disconnect between the characters, are visually stimulating and successful. However, when viewed in conjunction with the script there is an obvious dissonance, especially emphasised in the use of excessive editing, that juxtaposes with the thespian nature of the script.

What Malcom & Marie brings to the fore is a scrutiny of the relationship white filmmakers have with black stories. Questions of diversity are pervasive within the industry, especially regarding the considerable need for the telling of non-white stories. However, this begs the question of who is responsible for telling these stories. On the one hand, Levinson is using his position of privilege to narrate a black love story, where the creative collaboration with John-David Washington (Malcolm) and Zendaya (Marie) is palpable. But on the other, would it be more responsible and authentic to offer this opportunity to a black filmmaker?

The relationship between race and Hollywood is a complicated one. One which I hope to see influenced by a growth in opportunities for black filmmakers, rather than an encouragement of their white counterparts to adopt the narratives of people of colour.

Annabelle Underdown

Featured Image courtesy of Dan Stepinski via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.

In article trailer courtesy Netflix  via YouTube.

In article images courtesy of malcolmandmariefilm via Instagram. No changes made to these images.

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