Zendaya is reacting to the backlash directed at her new Netflix film Malcolm & Marie.
In an interview with The New York Times, the 24-year-old actress said her "agency was stripped away" by film critics who blasted the black-and-white drama, in which she explores complexities of a romantic relationship opposite John David Washington. The pair also produced the film with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, who wrote the script and directed.
Many of the film's critics pointed towards Levinson, 36, being a white man directing a movie about black leads. In a review for The Guardian, critic Robert Daniels wrote the film "initially has good intentions – defending black art – but once Levinson begins positing his gripes through Malcolm (Washington), a black man, his sincere aims trend toward being selfishly malicious."
"If Levinson only used Malcolm to extricate white critical blindspots concerning interpreting the value of black art through a white lens," Daniels continues, "Malcolm & Marie would be a fresh dose of truth serum. Levinson, a white director, uses Malcolm as a black shield for his real target, not the critics who analyze black works, but the ones who interpret his."
Asked by the Times if she and Washington were able to provide Levinson with input on "different aspects of the Black experience," Zendaya said, "Yeah, of course. 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. [Producers Guild of America] marks. You can't get those unless you actually do the job."
Zendaya went on to say in her Times interview that the backlash towards Malcolm & Marie "oddly mirrors a little bit" of her character's struggles in the film.
"It's like Marie saying the whole movie [Malcolm's film] is also mine. But actually in real life, we do have the credit, this is ours, and John David, I, and Sam equally own this film," she explained. "It's not like it belongs to someone else and I just got cast in it. 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."
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Zendaya previously spoke out about criticism of the film last month when she addressed the 12-year age gap between herself and Washington, the 36-year-old son of Denzel Washington.
"People often forget — which is understandable because I've been playing 16 since I was 16, you know — [but] I am grown," she told PEOPLE (the TV Show!) host Lawrence K. Jackson. "I knew that, as I grow and as I evolve, there would be that moment where I could play someone my own age."
Washington also addressed criticism of their age difference, telling Variety in January that he isn't "concerned," noting that, "People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is."
Malcolm & Marie is streaming now on Netflix.
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