'Malcolm & Marie' age gap backlash is over Sam Levinson's 'creepy relationships' onscreen, not Zendaya being 24
When 'Malcolm & Marie' was first announced in July 2020, Zendaya's fans were thrilled that the intense relationship drama would finally see her opposite 'not another white boy'. As an onscreen couple, the chemistry between her and John David Washington was off the charts in the first look and teaser snippets released at the time.
What's better was that Sam Levinson, the man behind Zendaya's Emmy winning character Rue from 'Euphoria', was in charge of helming her next big Netflix film. But as we sailed closer to the film's release, social media and critics found something to complain about: the glaring age gap between its characters. And while most of us, including Zendaya, was led to believe it's because of how accustomed we are to watch her play a teenager, the problem seems to lie elsewhere, with Levinson's alleged patterns of predatory relationships.
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The controversy surrounding the age gap in 'Malcolm & Marie' has been rife ever since the official trailer came out a couple of weeks ago. For context, Zendaya is 24 and plays the 20-year-old actress Marie in the film. Her partner, Malcolm, although his age not specified in the film's duration, is played by Washington, who's 36. And this 12 year age gap, outside of what the onscreen couples' age gap must be, soon became a topic of discussion blazing so hard that both the cast members had to address the issue in separate interviews.
Zendaya explained she understands the backlash considering she was a Disney star most of her life, so some might struggle to register she is not the sweet 16 she used to be. "I've played a 16-year-old since I was 16. You have to remember, also, people grew up with me as a child," the actress told E! News's Daily Pop, adding: "It's like watching, I guess, your younger sibling now, you know, they're grown. … So it's hard for people to wrap around the idea that I am grown in real life. You know, even though I do play a teenager on television still."
Washington, too, assured Variety that given Zendaya's professionalism, the age gap was never a concern. "I wasn't concerned about it because she is a woman. People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is. She has far more experience than I do in the industry," Washington explained. "I've only been in it for seven years. She's been in it longer, so I'm learning from her. I'm the rookie."
But that wasn't the only problem critics had with the film. Soon after headlines of Zendaya's response to the backlash graced Twitter, users clarified the real issue being Levinson's pattern of creepy, predatory relationships and age gaps, starting from those in 'Euphoria'.
In the HBO show about fictional American teens leading outrageously harrowing and real adventures in life based on Levinson's own past, we have not one, or two, but three girls engage in predatory sexual encounters.
There's Barbie Ferreira's character Kat, who feels comfortable in her body after she starts doing cam-calls in harness for older men who like to be degraded and dominated. Alexa Demie's character Maddie has been using sex as a weapon, with multiple older partners, since the age of 14. And then there's the new trans-girl Jules (Hunter Schaffer), who frequents a hookup app and doesn't mind sleeping with men old enough to be her father.
The mission here isn't even sex, it's mere validation and the feeling of control received by these young girls, who are all 17 years old, according to the show's current timeline. Femme fatale, sex positivity, and promiscuity are one thing, and then there's 'Euphoria' that sort of portrays these girls as machines luring older men into statutory rape.
It's almost as if the onus is to let the men know they are underage lies of the underage girls themselves. The only time anybody is held accountable on the show is a college kid who is seduced by Maddie to have sex in the pool at her ex's house party. Even then, he has to pay only when said ex gets violent with Maddie and they need a scapegoat to explain strangulation bruises on her neck.
Perhaps it was repressed criticism for so long that viewers couldn't contain anymore and lashed out on a film that isn't much at fault with its storyline when it comes to predatory sexual partnership. As Twitt user explains the problem is "more that sam levinson is obsessed with predatory relationships in his work." Others wrote: "Yea the issue isn't her or JDW as far as I'm concerned, it's the trend that the movie represents."
i think it’s more that sam levinson is obsessed with predatory relationships in his work— bethany (@chandIermonica) July 8, 2020
The issue isn’t that she’s grown it’s that the director has had predatory age gaps in his last three major projects between young women and men over 30... https://t.co/u5gmNw1Y1x— Wes Andre Goodrich (@wes_andre97) January 29, 2021
Yea the issue isn't her or JDW as far as I'm concerned, it's the trend that the movie represents.— Wes Andre Goodrich (@wes_andre97) January 29, 2021
like I love film critique that has merit and makes sense as an argument... if people are like "ok why do most Sam Levinson projects revolve around young women/girls in predatory or abusive relationships with men...." tht feels valid to me https://t.co/jmMSw6L83w— ValleyWitch✩ (@NINETIESWITCH) January 29, 2021
Levinson's latest big hit before 'Malcolm & Marie' was 'Euphoria', and before that, he explored relationship dramas in 'Another Happy Day', comedy in 'Assassination Nation', and the TV biopic on Bernie Madoff, 'The Wizard of Lies'. There's no articulate pattern or trend that Levinson has adhered to in his productions pre-'Euphoria', so it is perhaps the HBO teen drama's trend that the Netflix movie is allegedly perpetuating.
As users have pointed out, "The issue isn’t that she’s grown it’s that the director has had predatory age gaps in his last three major projects between young women and men over 30..."
Others who were against the backlash, also saw reason in this argument, tweeting "now this is an argument worth speaking of.... while the #MalcolmAndMarie outrage pointed solely on Zendaya being young, playing teens...is weird, I think what you're talking about is valid. Since Levinson *has* featured predatory age gaps in multiple projects...ure not wrong." The user continued: "like I love film critique that has merit and makes sense as an argument... if people are like "ok why do most Sam Levinson projects revolve around young women/girls in predatory or abusive relationships with men...." tht feels valid to me."
'Malcolm & Marie' premiers on Friday, February 5, on Netflix.