The increase in demand for more Black films has been fascinating to experience. Even with the influx of films, one question still remains. Where are the films of Black people just existing? The content that does not include themes of police brutality, trauma, racism, gang life, or slavery. The latest Black film genre to take off, romantic drama, is giving us just that with the release of The Photograph and Malcolm & Marie. Both films are similar in subject matter. However, one was more successful in its approach and intent. The reason is who worked behind the screen. We focus on the need for more Black acting opportunities. The need for more Black writers and directors cannot be forgotten. One of these films in particular demonstrates why.
The Photograph stars Issa Rae (Insecure) as Mae and Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) as Michael. Mae is the daughter of a famous photographer that has recently died. Michael is a reporter who is researching Mae’s mother. The Photograph explores falling in love and how childhood experiences, specifically Mae’s, dictate future relationship patterns. The film also intertwines pieces of Mae’s parent’s, Christina and Isaac, connection. There is even a brief glimpse into Christina’s relationship with her own mother. The cinematography is beautiful. New York and Louisiana create a scenic backdrop for the story. Christina’s photography adds another layer of visual stimulation. The Photograph is currently available on HBOMax for viewing.
The Photograph is successful for a couple reasons. It is written and directed by Stella Meghie, a Black woman. The words and conversations seem authentic. There is nuance in what isn’t said. There is also a certain audaciousness in each character’s actions. Since the film explores two separate romantic relationships throughout, there are a few different perspectives on love and its complexities. Sometimes relationships simply do not work. There is no one person to blame for its downfall. The best part of the movie is that it is not overly dramatic. It allows us to see that the characters may have made bad decisions, but they were not bad people. Featuring a distinct villain can be detrimental to the story being told. The Photograph not allowing itself to get lost in that trope is greatly appreciated.
Malcolm & Marie
Malcolm & Marie stars John David Washington (Tenet) and Zendaya (Euphoria) as the film’s titular characters. They arrive home after a screening of Malcolm’s new film and begin to quarrel. Marie doesn’t feel appreciated in the relationship. Especially after her contribution to Malcolm’s film was disregarded. Malcolm feels that Marie is jealous of the accolades he is receiving and ruining his moment. The entirety of the film captures the two in a cycle of arguments and reconciliation. A boxing match of sorts, except the jabs are verbal. Shot in a Film Noir style, the movie is aesthetically pleasing. The music featured in the film matches the visual style to a tee. However, it was too outdated for the young characters to be believably listening to. It was a pleasant surprise to see that rapper Kid Cudi (Scott Mescudi) had a production credit. Malcolm & Marie is now available on Netflix for viewing.
As the only two characters, it’s a big ask to expect Malcolm and Marie to keep the viewer’s interest for almost two hours. The two characters that aren’t particularly likeable. Malcolm is pompous and Marie is irrational. Together, they are the perfect mix of toxicity. While the actors executed the roles to the best of their abilities, the film’s writing lacked the breadth necessary to truly pull it off. Sam Levinson is the film’s writer and director. Levinson is best known for his outstanding work on Euphoria. He is also a White male. Throughout the movie, Sam makes it a point to constantly have Malcolm say his film “doesn’t have to be political” because the characters are Black. He misses the point that being Black, in and of itself, is political. The reason Black artists need to be seen as more than just Black isn’t emphasized. It isn’t even discussed.
Malcolm & Marie is pretentious. None of the dialog is believable. Each word that is spoken seems to exist to only further Sam Levinson’s diatribe on the film industry, not Malcolm’s. Malcolm and Marie needed to be portrayed by Black actors. Sam’s words are tone deaf when spoken by a White male. Malcolm’s use of the N word was cringeworthy. Largely because it felt forced, and unnecessary considering the context. The characters spent the majority of the time talking at each other instead of to each other. Maybe that’s a flaw in their relationship. Most likely it is just subpar writing. The audience deserved more.
If you can only watch one, The Photograph is the more comprehensive movie. The story is told in a more relatable format. It is more meaningful even though there is not a lot of drama involved. Malcolm & Marie is watchable but there is not any replay value to it. It is not a classic movie, as much as it tries to make itself fit there. The Photograph is proof that when we are put in charge of our own stories, the content we create is timeless. Stella’s work is so captivating. With even the slightest bit more insight on the Black experience, Sam could have had a masterpiece in Malcolm & Marie. The necessity for movies of Black people just being human is immense. We love without antics, we argue about nothing. Hell, we eat boxed mac and cheese at 1am! People finally get to see that on the big screen.