Malcolm & Marie Writer-Director Sam Levinson on How Zendaya and John David Washington Reclaim the Classic Black & White Film Motif

Portraying the titular characters Malcolm & Marie, John David Washington and Zendaya are stripped down to the rawest of emotions. The visual is similarly stripped down, filmed in black and white.

As a reminder, here’s the synopsis via Netflix:

Writer/Director Sam Levinson teams up with Zendaya and John David Washington for an achingly romantic drama in which a filmmaker (Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits what’s sure to be imminent critical and financial success. The evening suddenly takes a turn as revelations about their relationships begin to surface, testing the strength of their love.


In the film, Malcolm goes on a lengthy rant about the reactions to the film he has helmed (which can be and has clearly been interpreted as Levinson’s own personal gripes) as well as the general perception of him as a director—he is a Black director...but he doesn’t want to be siloed in a box and only compared to other Black directors. He wants to be considered a director, period. That duality and neutrality is absolutely conveyed in the film, as you certainly see two Black folks onscreen—though perhaps not as Blackity-Black as they could be, when you consider that Malcolm is scarfing down boxed macaroni and cheese.

“I think about black and white movies I love—La Notte, The Servant (1963) by Joseph Losey, [Who’s Afraid of] Virginia Woolf?—and I notice that every single person in all of these movies is white,” Levinson tells The Root. “So, I start thinking about the idea [that] I’m also making a movie about a young couple who works in Hollywood and they’re both Black. The idea was, what if we were to reclaim the beauty and elegance of black and white filmmaking but for these two characters, who I think represent the future of Hollywood or what we want to see.”


Levinson also discusses how he approached staging the film, as its singular location gives off the sense of a stage play.

Malcolm & Marie drops on Netflix on Feb. 5.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.



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