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Malcolm & Marie
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You won’t get very far into Malcolm & Marie—the new Netflix drama starring Zendaya and John David Washington that began streaming on Friday—before you start to suspect that the film is based on a true story. Washington’s character, Malcolm, is a film director celebrating the premiere of his successful new film, but his younger girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) isn’t in a celebratory mood when the couple gets home. Why? Because Malcolm forgot to thank Marie in his speech.
He apologized immediately afterward, and she told him it was fine, but of course, it’s not fine.
We learn that Malcolm’s film was at least in part inspired by Marie’s drug abuse and that Marie believes he is just using her trauma for story material. We learn that Marie is an actor who wanted to star in Malcolm’s film, but that he cast someone else. We learn that Malcolm helped Marie through her recovery, that she cheated on him, and that Malcolm really hates this one white woman from The LA Times.
Is Malcolm and Marie based on a true story?
It would be incorrect to say that all of the things that happen to Malcolm and Marie are a “true story,” because they aren’t. However, writer/director Sam Levinson—also known as the creator of HBO’s Euphoria—did base one key detail of the film on a true story from his life: the time that he forgot to thank his wife, Ashley Levinson, at the premiere of his 2018 film, Assassination Nation.
In an interview with Levinson for the Malcolm & Marie press notes, the writer/director said, “I thought, what’s a terrible thing one partner can do to another? And then I remembered this moment when I was at the premiere for Assassination Nation. It had been a really brutal and intensive process, particularly the editing of that movie which I cut for about a year straight.
We didn’t end up having a big blow-up fight like Malcolm and Marie do, it was actually a pretty direct and simple conversation that was essentially, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Who the fuck is more important to your process than me?’ But it made me think a lot about what partnership really means, whose work is the priority, what are the contributions that we bring to one another, and how it feels when those contributions aren’t acknowledged. Photo: Netflix
Ashley Levinson is not an actor like Marie, but she is a film producer whose credits include, among others, Assassination Nation, Queen & Slim, Bombshell, Euphoria, The Green Knight, and of course, Malcolm & Marie. In that same interview for the press notes, she had her own take on that speech incident. “I only ever mentioned it once, which was in the car ride home from the premiere, and we never discussed it again,” she said.
I should add that when the Euphoria premiere happened a year later in the same theater, he gave one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, eloquent speeches about relationships, love, partnership, and my significance to him, so there was a beautiful irony about the whole thing.”
So you can rest easy knowing that while the speech incident is based on a true story, the horrific fight is not.
Though neither Levinson mentioned it, there are also parallels between the film Malcolm wrote in Malcolm & Marie, and Levinson’s hit HBO series Euphoria, which stars Zendaya as a teenager recovering from drug addiction. Levinson has spoken about how his own struggle with addiction shaped the show, and it seems likely those experiences helped shape the character of Marie, too. Then, of course, some suspect that when Malcolm calls out “the white bitch from the LA Times” he is referring to a freelancer who once panned his film, Assassination Nation. In an interview with Independent, Levinson neither confirmed nor denied that was calling out a specific critic. After a pause, Levinson said, “Look, it just sounded funny. Every time Malcolm says it, it just makes you laugh.”
Watch Malcolm & Marie on Netflix
Malcolm & Marie Netflix Sam Levinson.