Why Netflix's 'Malcolm & Marie' Is Causing Controversy

Malcolm & Marie has once again brought up an age-old problem in Hollywood, where a leading man is much older than his female co-star. In the case of the new Netflix movie, John David Washington is 12 years older than Zendaya. The age gap issue is even brought up in the film itself, and the stars have repeatedly defended their casting.

Malcolm & Marie was written and directed by Sam Levinson, who developed HBO's Euphoria. Washington, 36, plays Malcolm Elliott, a film director who just made his own breakthrough movie. Zendaya, 24, plays Malcolm's girlfriend, Marie Jones, who also inspired his film. The film starts after Malcolm gets home from his movie's premiere, and their relationship is tested when they discuss the movie industry and their own lives.

The script does address another issue between the couple, their ages. Malcolm never says exactly what his age is, but it is implied he is older than Marie, notes Bustle. They met when Marie was about 20 and still struggling with addiction. Marie also notes she was at a vulnerable age when they first met and Malcolm may have taken advantage of her age. Marie is about 25 in the movie and the couple has been together for five years.

During a Variety interview, Washington said he was not concerned about the age gap. "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. I've only been in it for seven years," Washington noted, adding that he was learning more from her. "I appreciated her wisdom and discernment when it comes to this business. I admire that," Washington continued. "What I'm really excited for people to see when the film is released – they're going to see how mature she is in this role. We're talking about versatility, and Sam and Zendaya brought both."

Zendaya suggested that the criticism is rooted in the fact that many have been watching her since she was a child star. She began her career on the Disney Channel in 2010, when she was 14. Plus, Zendaya still plays a teenager on Euphoria. "I've played a 16-year-old since I was 16. You have to remember, also, people grew up with me as a child," Zendaya told E! News. "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."


The movie also attracted criticism because Levinson is a white man who wrote a movie about Black characters being concerned about how Black art is received. During an Esquire interview, Levinson said he had no anxiety about expressing these issues as a white filmmaker because of the collaborative process with Washington and Zendaya. "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," Levinson said. "I didn't have anxiety in that sense because I have too much respect for the collaborative nature of filmmaking." Levinson also told The Independent that he didn't think the age gap criticism was applicable to his movie, saying it was part of the movie's "DNA." Malcolm & Marie is now streaming on Netflix.