What to learn from Malcolm, Marie & Sylvie

            It’s difficult to accurately portray what love looks like in film when it comes to Black people, because the concept of Love itself is such a complex topic to dissect. No one is truly an expert on it, and there’s no straightaway answer that covers all the bases as to what it’s supposed to be. Everyone loves different, and those differences are polarizing, on a person-to-person basis. The beautiful thing is that, there are more examples of Black Love on-screen that have shown a wide array of emotional connectivity between the pictures and the audience. Too many times we’ve seen Black love as something that’s always at a heightened degree of toxicity, but they at least felt authentic in ways, because many of us have had to live through similar experiences.

            Netflix’s latest release, Malcolm & Marie, starring John David Washington & Zendaya, has caused a stir online, notably because of the portrayal of a toxic relationship involving young, Black rising stars in Hollywood. Zendaya’s Euphoria has been a hit, as her portrayal as Rue earned her an Emmy win in 2020, at just 24 years old – a phenomenal accomplishment. John David Washington has been non-stop since his breakout performance in BlacKkKlansman, and being the lone action star in 2020 for TENET, which saw the dramatic shift in cinema go from the theatres to home TV screens. The movie was Directed & Written by Sam Levinson, who is a White man, and much of the criticism for M&M was the fact that you had this White man taking some of his real life events, and letting Black actors be the conduit to express his own grievances – I absolutely understand why that rubbed people the wrong way, and when you have a movie like The Marriage Story (Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson) portray a couple going through their own divorce, some people essentially put Levinson’s work in that same hall for highlighting damaged people in a failing relationship.

Zendaya & John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie

            Because the style of M&M is minimalist, it’s heavy in dialogue, and not a lot of camera movement. You’re a fly on the wall in a conversation that gets uncomfortable time and time again. A common word associated with the movie is ‘triggering,’ because if you’ve been in a toxic relationship, it puts you back in places where you’ve worked hard to disassociate yourself from. It’s the first time we’ve seen examples of characters having high dysfunction with one another, but I believe the difference is that the entire movie is centered around these two as they have a war with words – in other movies, there’s a whole ass plot that gives you breaks from the dysfunction. M&M feels very on-brand for a lot of couples who have had to isolate with each other and grievances were aired in the worst ways (RIP Jerry Stiller). It’s not a movie that you would describe as enjoyable, unless you enjoy watching chaos on an everyday basis (reality TV does exist) and have a thirst for inflicting emotional pain. I was saying to my friend Britany (who wrote her feelings about M&M here) that the only differences between the movie and reality TV were a budget and a script. And a large part of it as well is the dialogue. You have words written by a White man, with his gaze, but are expressed through Black bodies, and things can get complicated there, but there were a lot of moments that hit home, which spanned across previous relationships, that felt authentic and even allowed me to question what I’d been going through during those times, but that’s neither here nor there.

Tessa Thompson & Nnamdi Asomugha in Sylvie’s Love

            Sylvie’s Love, which stars Tessa Thompson & former Oakland Raiders & Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Back, Nnamdi Asomugha, is a movie that I wish had more eyes graced upon it, because it’s a beautiful story that saw Black Love in the 50s in a light that many of us probably hadn’t seen or heard of before. There’s always a large fixation of civil unrest during those times, and racism is always expected to be part of the dialogue and plot, so it was nice that the focus was on the individuals, and not the state of the world – not everyday trauma, man.

            Sylvie & Robert are both ambitious in their own rights, but because they’re their biggest supporters, there’s a push-pull when really the only conflicts that arise are about their professional endeavours, which physically separates them, but the love is healthy in a way where it’s an enjoyable watch from start to finish. To see the genuine connection and not have a strong presence of resistance to fall deep in that love, you need to highlight that, because really many of us are Lovamon or Lovagyals trying to give our hearts to people who will happily & mutually share in all avenues – it’s not that complicated when you break it down.

            The contrast of the two movies I’ve chosen to compare, extend to the layers of Black Love that need to be taken into consideration. Obviously they take place in different periods of time, and whereas one has a plot, and the other does not, the symbolism of Black Love is still important to see on screen, because as much as the bad has been displayed time and time again, you need the good to balance things out. If Beale Street Could Talk is another great movie that has a feel good factor, but still highlights pain that is relatable to us in current-day relationships. But again, these movies aren’t the standalone Gold standard depictions of Black Love, but they’re recent examples that contribute to the conversation of the complexities that aren’t often depicted.

            Emotional violence was the main agenda for M&M; there were a lot of haymakers thrown that many don’t recover from, and where the dialogue would appear unrealistic in many instances, I’ve either been in, or have witnessed conversations on that scale where it almost felt normal. Hollywood can get hyperbolic & often sensationalize simple conversations to heighten the shock factor, but the inspiration comes from real places. It’s hard to disassociate the dialogue from a White man, but I think a movie like this presents the opportunity to explore more authentic and thought-provoking dialogue that can be implemented to movies going forward that speak to the everyday pain that many people do face on a romantic level. But we also need balance so that every movie isn’t about how much pain we can witness two people go through for 90 minutes. Art is a beautiful madness.

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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