- The Netflix film “Malcolm & Marie” faced criticism from viewers who said writer and director Sam Levinson used two Black actors, Zendaya and John David Washington, to voice his own personal opinions on race and identity politics in Hollywood.
- However, Zendaya told The New York Times the criticism was unfair because both she and Washington helped Levinson craft the script and were producers of the film.
- “I think a little bit of our agency was stripped away,” she said. “John David, I and Sam equally own this film.”
- She later told the Los Angeles Times that she feels the conversations she had with Levinson about race came through in the film’s script.
“Malcolm & Marie” Faces Criticism
Zendaya is addressing the backlash and criticism that her film “Malcolm & Marie” has received for its discussions of race in Hollywood.
The film, written and directed by Sam Levinson, co-stars Zendaya and John David Washington as a couple that spends the night arguing after getting home from the premiere of a film Washington’s character directed.
“Malcolm & Marie” is full of long and winding monologues not just about relationship troubles, but also about the roles race and identity politics play in the interpretation and criticism of film.
Ironically but perhaps intentionally, those monologues are at the center of the criticism the movie has received. Journalists have panned the film, and speeches delivered by Washington’s Malcolm in particular, for their trite and exhausting dialogue that ultimately runs in circles.
Many have specifically taken issue with the fact that Levinson, a white man and the son of a famed director himself, seemingly inserted his own angers about film criticism into words uttered by two acclaimed Black actors.
“There are many moments where it feels as if Malcolm, who is a Black Hollywood director, serves as a mouthpiece for Levinson’s own opinions on race and filmmaking,” Micha Frazer-Carroll wrote for The Independent.
In a piece for The Guardian, Robert Daniels wrote that the film uses Black actors to vent white frustration. Daniels suggested that Levinson could have used the character of Malcolm to discuss the way white critics interpret work by Black filmmakers, but instead, “uses Malcolm as a black shield for his real target, not the critics who analyze black works, but the ones who interpret his.”
“As ‘Malcolm & Marie’ unfurls, Levinson shifts Malcolm’s voice from a black one, to the white director’s own,” Daniels continued.
Zendaya Addresses Backlash
However, Zendaya feels these criticisms are unfair and disregard the fact that both she and Washington produced the film and were heavily involved in every aspect its creation. Levinson and both of the stars have talked numerous times about how collaborative the set was and how Zendaya and Washington were part of the process of crafting the script and their characters.
“I think a little bit of our agency was stripped away,” she told The New York Times on Sunday. “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. marks. You can’t get those unless you actually do the job.”
“John David, I and Sam equally own this film,” she continued. “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.”
In a Tuesday piece from the Los Angeles Times, she expanded on how personal producing this project felt to her.
“I’m putting my own money into it,” the actress explained. “I’m producing something, so I’m putting myself out there in a much more vulnerable position than I’ve ever been in.”
She also said that she spoke about Levinson about race and Hollywood and felt that her ideas did come through in the script.
“There’s conversations that I’ve had with Sam that reflect a little bit in things that Malcolm says about his creativity and being boxed in, specifically being a Black creative that feels like there’s a certain lens their work is looked through — those kinds of things,” she said.
Levinson has similarly dismissed criticisms made about him being white and making a film with Black protagonists.
“I have faith in the collaborative process and in my partners that if I write something that doesn’t feel true, that JD or Z don’t respond to or feel to be honest, that they are going to say something and we’ll work it out,” he told Esquire. “I didn’t have anxiety in that sense because I have too much respect for the collaborative nature of filmmaking.”
See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (New York Times) (IndieWire)
“Don’t Worry Darling” Tops the Box Office Amid Bad Press
Audiences are already giving the film higher praise than critics did.
Young Women Flock to “Don’t Worry Darling”
Weeks of controversies and rumors did not prevent “Don’t Worry Darling” from finding victory at the box office, with the Olivia Wilde-directed thriller debuting at number one over the weekend and raking in $19.2 million.
Wilde also acted in the mid-century mystery, which starrs Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, and Gemma Chan.
Women led ticket sales for the picture, comprising 66% of the audience, according to several reports. At least partially due to the appeal of Styles, crowds also skewed young, with over half under the age of 25.
Overseas, the film made over $10 million, bringing its total for the weekend to $30 million. That number is especially impressive since the R-rated drama had a budget of $35 million.
“Don’t Worry Darling” had been plagued with weeks of rumors about behind-the-scenes drama leading up to its release. Among other bouts of gossip, many online speculated that Pugh and Wilde had riffs on set, leading to Pugh’s refusal to promote the project. One report alleged the two got into a screaming match, but sources on set denied it.
Wilde and Shia LeBeouf, who was originally cast in the picture, also got into a public he-said-she-said about whether he quit the film or was fired.
The drama hit a boiling point during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival when Twitter users circulated a video they claimed showed Styles spiting on Pine, though both parties have denied that allegation.
A Film Riddled With Rumors
Furthering the bad press were the bad reviews. Critics largely panned the film, sticking it with a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. After this first weekend, moviegoers seem to have a more favorable outlook, as it has a 79% audience score as of Monday.
Jeff Goldstein, the distribution chief for Warner Bros., told the Associated Press that “the background noise” caused by these controversies “had a neutral impact” on its box office haul. The studio released a statement saying it was pleased with the movie’s earnings.
Some analysts believe that, if anything, the online gossip and fodder may have aided the film’s box office performance.
In a tweet recapping the weekend’s box office, Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, said the “drama sparked a huge wave of interest.”
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Box Office Mojo) (New York Times)
Senators Introduce Legislation Requiring Radios to Pay Royalties to Artists
Sen. Padilla argued the bill is necessary to give artists the “dignity and respect they deserve.”
The American Music Fairness Act
Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the American Music Fairness Act to the Senate on Thursday, a bill that would require radio stations to pay royalties to performers and rights holders.
The bill was previously introduced to the House last year. According to a release, the United States is the only democratic country where artists are not compensated for their music’s use on AM or FM radio. While songwriters and publishers receive payment, these stations have never been required to give a slice of the pie to performers and copyright holders.
On streaming and satellite radio, however, both groups receive royalty payments.
In a statement, Padilla said it is time the country starts treating “our musical artists with the dignity and respect they deserve for the music they produce and we enjoy every day.”
“California’s artists have played a pivotal role in enriching and diversifying our country’s music scene,” he added. “That is why passing the American Music Fairness Act is so important.”
“From Beale Street to Music Row to the hills of East Tennessee, the Volunteer State’s songwriters have undeniably made their mark,” Blackburn echoed. “Tennessee’s creators deserve to be compensated for their work. This legislation will ensure that they receive fair payment and can keep the great hits coming.”
The American Music Fairness Act would require terrestrial radio broadcasters to pay royalties to music creators when their songs are played. It would also protect smaller stations that either make less than $1.5 million in annual revenue or who have a parent company that makes less than $10 million in annual revenue by letting them play unlimited music for under $500 a year.
The bill would also require other countries to pay American artists for the use of their work.
Support From Major Music Groups
The legislation is endorsed by a number of groups, including the Recording Academy, SAG-AFTRA, and the American Federation of Musicians.
If passed, the bill could move a lot of money into the pockets of performers. According to the Recording Academy, when American music gets international airplay, other countries collect royalties for American artists, amounting to around $200 million every year. However, they “never pay those royalties because the U.S. does not reciprocate with our own performance right.”
Fran Drescher, President of SAG-AFTRA, argues that the money belongs to the artists.
“Broadcast companies profit from advertising sales because of the creative content musicians and singers record. It stands to reason that the performers who create the content deserve to be compensated just as songwriters are now,” Drescher said in a statement. “The reason it’s called the American Music Fairness Act is because the current situation is wholly unfair and it’s up to Congress to make it fair NOW!”
Last year, Representatives Steve Womack (R-AR) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced the Local Radio Freedom Act, a bill with essentially the opposite agenda. It aims to reserve radio’s royalty-free status. The American Music Fairness Act is being viewed as a counter-response to this bill.
Kanye West Says Catalog Is Potentially Being Sold Without His Permission: “Just Like Taylor Swift”
After Swift lost the rights to her life’s work, she took on the endeavor of re-recording her first six albums.
Kanye’s Catalog Potentially Up For Grabs
Following reports that Kanye West was considering selling his catalog, the artist took to Instagram on Tuesday to claim his work is potentially being sold without his approval.
On Monday, Billboard reported that West had been “quietly and intermittently shopping his publishing catalog.”
While the outlet’s sources did not reveal what price West was aiming for, Billboard estimated that West might be looking at a $175 million valuation for his discography. Some of Billboard’s sources seemingly suggested that West and his team were specifically behind the effort to sell his work, but others claimed the “catalog was never actively shopped” and instead, West had been receiving offers from potential buyers.
Not long after, several news outlets picked the story up and reported that West was gearing up to sell his catalog. West responded by writing on his Instagram story that this was not the case.
“Not For Sale”
“Just like Taylor Swift,” he said, referencing music mogul Scooter Braun purchasing Swift’s masters with Big Machine Records without her approval. “My publishing is being put up for my sale without my knowledge. Not for sale.”
Swift referred to the sale of her masters to Braun as her “worst case scenario.” In order to regain ownership of her work, she is in the process of re-recording her first six albums, all of which she originally made under Big Machine. Two have already been released and proved to be wildly commercially successful.
According to Forbes, it is unclear which of his albums West owns the masters to, if he owns any at all. Because of this, it is unknown what kind of position he would be put in if his catalog, which is currently managed by Sony, was sold.
The status of any potential for his work to be sold became foggier later on Tuesday when West shared screenshots of a text exchange he had. He asked an unidentified person what was happening with the catalog sale, and that person responded by calling it “fake news.”
“Of course every publisher wants to pitch [their] hardest buy, smh,” the text continued.
West did not further indicate if those texts were meant to clarify that his catalog was, in fact, not up for sale, or just further distance himself from any potential acquisition.