At the center of Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie is a discussion of who the actual inspiration for Malcolm’s film is and a rant about the ignorance of critics. In a way, life imitates art, as Malcolm’s rant about the “white lady critic from the LA Times” is based on Levinson’s own experiences. With Malcolm & Marie, Levinson seemingly voices his own niche frustrations with past experiences through Malcolm rather than using Malcolm’s issues with critics to go a step further when discussing critiquing Black art through a white lens.
Even when Malcolm discusses his own use of the “white savior trope,” he brings up Barry Jenkins and Moonlight: “The fact that Barry Jenkins isn’t gay, is that what made Moonlight so f*cking universal?” It’s this comment that had many Twitter users confused, mainly because Levinson seems to disregard the fact that Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the play Moonlight and helped adapt it for the screen, is gay and Jenkins has his own ties to the story, being Black and growing up in the same Florida projects where the film is set. Instead of wanting to be compared to Spike Lee or Jenkins, the only two Black directors that Malcolm appears to be able to bring up, he wants to be compared to William Wyler.
It’s hard to ignore these specific references and not feel as if they’re coming directly from a personal place for Levinson. If it was meant to be a general commentary, why focus so keenly on both the white lady critic and Jenkins? Twitter was quick to pick up on this, citing both criticisms of Euphoria and Levinson’s ability to have an entire monologue centered on white filmmakers. When asked by Esquire if Malcolm’s commentary is something he’d heard from Black filmmakers, Levinson had this to say, “It’s kind of evident in film criticism and history.” That doesn’t exactly sound like he pulled from others’ experiences.