I do not want that title.’”

Have you seen Malcolm & Marie? It did make me a little self-conscious, especially when Malcolm and Marie are reading the review and making fun of the way the white critic switches into Black-coded syntax. Film Critics Awards dinner and I ran into some people from Neon, who distributed Assassination Nation, and they quoted the review to my face. That is a fair point, but I don’t think that it lands. Times. She’s just doing her job. It didn’t go viral. The Gold Rush

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Zendaya and John David Washington in Malcolm & Marie. The female critic in Malcolm & Marie becomes that younger couple, the thing that they’re using to fight with each other. It’s complicated, but it’s a good conversation to have, if you have it in a nice way. They finally sent me the screener on [January] 20 and I saw it on the 21st, which was the day before the review embargo lifted. When they called the woman mediocre, I was like, “Oh God, I am mediocre.” But then, when Marie calls Malcolm mediocre, he’s like, “How dare you call me mediocre?” That is an interesting idea: He can dish it out, but he can’t take it. I was like, “Sorry.” But then we had a laugh about it. Assassination Nation is an exploitation thriller about teen girls, and Walsh’s review centered on similar issues of identity. Finally, she suggests that Malcolm’s handling of his female protagonist is marked by the male gaze, a critique that inspires one of the film’s many, many monologues. Times” and the way her review becomes this dumpster for Malcolm to heap all of his scorn upon, it feels vindictive. So I did have a heads-up, and by the time I got the screener I was getting messages from other people, too. Times,’” she says. And we wouldn’t be talking about this. Did you ever get that feeling, too?I had to review Judas and the Black Messiah, which has a score that is literally performed by jazz musicians. I didn’t say anything about the references. I had to question whether I’d ever written like that. So, whether or not this character is based on me, I think any female critic could see themselves in this. Times is Justin Chang, and there are only a couple of women who are freelance critics there. It’s so frowned upon. But I also think that I bring my identity to everything I watch. When you’re trying to make an argument, you have to draw your audience in and make it easy for them to understand. Is he growing? He’s using her against Marie in a way, as well: She gets triangulated into their relationship in this really weird way. I can’t take it off. I didn’t hear from anybody. It’s just not something anyone would do, especially if I was reviewing the film hours later. What is the difference between doing it before or after? It’s venting. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, being like, “Is this directed at me?” So I feel like I can’t fully speak to all of the arguments in it. Tags: Malcolm makes a lot of critiques about the state of contemporary film criticism. But I did think about the “jazzy” part. Part of what makes criticism fun is that everyone can have their own relationship with a film and it doesn’t have to be what the director intended. Not that I hated the movie, just the experience. Can you elaborate a little more on that?At the premiere, she goes up to Malcolm and she’s like, “I loved the film. Levinson’s previous film, 2018’s Assassination Nation, had received a scathing pan from Katie Walsh, who is white, female, and a freelancer for the L.A. I thought about rewatching it, and then I was like, “I can’t rewatch this.”

It sounds like you subscribe to the theory that this is not random, that there is some connection here.Okay, so: I think there’s an important distinction to be made. I definitely don’t think critics are above criticism at all. I suppose the argument would be that it’s to show that Malcolm is abusive and has really terrible ways of relating with women.Yes, that is the argument that you can make. Mary McNamara wrote a really good piece that was like, female critics get horrible things said about them all the time. I noticed that you didn’t review it.Yes, I have seen the movie. She saw that I had written the Assassination Nation review, so she was like, “You should start trying to see this movie.”

I emailed Netflix for a month asking if I could go to one of the virtual screenings. And sometimes they were right! Why doesn’t Marie leave him?” Levinson is like, “He’s an asshole. Walsh has been reticent about making herself the center of the story, but earlier this month, she agreed to speak to Vulture over Zoom to discuss the experience of seeing her three-year-old review possibly inspire a major motion picture. You see these flashes of brilliance and then it descends in this contradictory, messy way. As with Marriage Story, it didn’t take long for viewers to make an autobiographical connection. I did not review it. I don’t know what to believe about what his intention was, but I think that brings up another meta-conversation on top of the film’s own meta-conversation about intention versus perception. It feels pointed. I am not going to say that at all. But I also want to say that the character as it is written is not me. My last question: Was this the most negative feedback you’ve ever gotten on a review?The funny thing about the Assassination Nation review is that I didn’t really feel it had much impact when it came out. I hated it. Then she writes a positive review, but in terms he feels have more to do with signaling her own progressive politics than genuinely grappling with the work. You’re the next Barry Jenkins, you’re the next Spike Lee.” I think any critic would absolutely cringe at going up to a filmmaker after a premiere and giving them a rave reaction. Times.” She knows that the critic for the L.A. Times,” in the parlance of the script — whose every action inspires teeth-gnashing anguish in John David Washington’s Malcolm. I did review it on Letterboxd, but I just put an ellipsis. “My friend said I should get a Super Yaki T-shirt that says ‘White Lady at the L.A. “You can’t say that I brilliantly subverted this trope ’cause I’m Black, but I fell into this one because I’m a fucking man!”

And to top it all off, the review is paywalled! “I was like, ‘No. The stuff that Malcolm says gets really violent: “Fuck you with a cactus dick.” I have no idea if that was in the script or if that was something that was improvised, but it feels personal. I know some critics don’t like it because they think it’s too mean-spirited, but I think it’s worth reading for any writer to learn what their crutches are. He’s unquestionably a blowhard, a jerk, and terrible in all sorts of ways. But when you give him that oxygen, let him get those jabs in, that’s what bothered me. But I don’t know that I got anything too illuminating from it. From what we heard of the review, did you think the fictional woman was a good writer?The review becomes a catchall for every single critical sin that could potentially be committed. I know that depiction is not endorsement, but it does feel like it’s coming from a personal place for Levinson. But that’s just me. Or quibble with me about a word choice. But last January I was at the L.A. But [the conversation with those directors], that was a good conversation. It’s just not something I would say. Sometimes it’s just people saying, “Oh my God, I had no idea it was you, and then I read the piece.”

What was the experience of watching the movie like for you?It wasn’t fun. People are comparing this to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, where [the central couple] have the younger couple to throw their issues into stark relief. I just don’t like how ugly the discourse gets. I was like, “Don’t you dare say that this is ‘jazzy.’” It’s fascinating because that is a film that is explicitly about Black politics and history … I mean, I didn’t let myself get in my head too much about it. You mentioned the way that she acts at the premiere is not the way you would act. Maybe if the review was already posted and I met someone at a thing, I’d say, “Oh my God, I loved your movie.” But not before. Sometimes if I love a film and I have a good relationship with a publicist, I will tell them, “It was great.” But it’s kind of awkward to tell a filmmaker that. It’s weird because she does give him such a rave review and then he tears her apart. Perhaps that’s the point: that these conversations are messy, whether they’re conversations about relationships or conversations about criticism. I don’t think that does the argument any justice. She’s the only person whose words carry any subtext, even if it’s a subtext she’s not aware of.That’s true. If he had had the foresight to make it a different person, or a different publication, then the film wouldn’t be seen as a revenge movie. But, anyway, I have no idea. Sam Levinson keeps saying that he’s surprised that people are connecting the character to me — I mean, maybe that’s true, or maybe it’s naïve. Is Marie going to leave him? He has said that it’s based on a real incident in his life, and I don’t think that he can fully distance himself from Malcolm being his mouthpiece. But I will not say that the Assassination Nation review was a mistake. Netflix has marketed the film as a love story, and people are saying, “Oh my God, this guy’s an asshole. Photo: Dominic Miller/Netflix

Malcolm and Marie may be the only two people who appear onscreen in Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, but an unseen third character looms nearly as large. She doesn’t want to be in this at all. You can say, “This is what Malcolm does.” But why are we giving him so much time to say those things? The review that she writes is not me. Because it’s tipping your hand?Sometimes I want the review to be what it is. At times I thought the film critic was the most three-dimensional character in the movie. “You can’t hang everything on identity,” he says. I know that sounds Pollyannaish. Malcolm is saying, “Don’t put identity into criticism and don’t assign identity to my film,” and that’s fine, you can say that. It was a year and a half later. At first I was taken aback because I didn’t know what they were talking about. Being relegated to these identity silos. I just don’t think they’re executed well. It made me a better writer. It’s not a high-minded discussion about criticism and art. So it’s not just a conversation about criticism. What does the woman herself think? How many stars did you give it on Letterboxd?I didn’t give it any stars. I thought there were some interesting ideas in Assassination Nation, and I think there are some interesting ideas in Malcolm & Marie. The way that she behaves at the premiere is not me. Early in my career I had a couple of experiences at film festivals where directors would come up to my face and be like, “You shouldn’t have given that a C-plus,” or whatever. Did you end up using “jazzy” or did you go with a different adjective?“Jazz-inflected.”

There you go.One of my favorite essays is Renata Adler’s brutal takedown of Pauline Kael, “The Perils of Pauline.” She dissects Kael’s writing, her word choices and her little quirks, and she eviscerates it. Then I was mortified. Because of the repeated references to “the white lady at the L.A. First, she praises his film at its premiere, but only compares him to other Black directors. At the end of December, a colleague called me and said, “Hey, just want to let you know, you should see this movie because there are a lot of references to a white lady at the L.A. All that happens is they get tired, they submit, they go to sleep. He’s abusing this woman in the same way that he’s abusing his girlfriend. Are you comfortable sharing whether you liked the movie?I don’t feel like I can critically assess it. But when I got the heads-up about the references, I was like, “Maybe this will spark a really interesting discussion about criticism.” I think it has, but I also was not prepared for how ugly the movie gets. There wasn’t a ton of feedback. The thing is, she doesn’t get to defend herself or be a participant in the conversation, really. How many messages would you say you get a week?I mean, I’ve probably gotten maybe one a day. Maybe that’s the whole idea of the movie. I didn’t think that would be a good idea; it’s too thorny. Fortunately, I haven’t had too much hate directed at me, but I’ve gotten weird things said about me on Twitter. But do you think he ever has a point?I do think that there’s a valid point to be made about filmmakers being boxed into making a Black film, or making a female film, or making a Latinx film. Having this character just scream random filmmakers’ names? But there are no consequences for Malcolm. Did you have any advance warning going in?I did. There are interesting things, though. So I feel for this female critic. Why don’t they say this stuff about the white-guy critics? I think the connection could be made; I’m not the person who started making these connections. I watched it in a blur. She’s a film critic for the Los Angeles Times — “the white lady from the L.A. But I don’t even think it’s that bad. “The filmmakers have the gall to spend nearly two hours assaulting the audience with sexualized violence,” she wrote, “only to turn around and offer up a patronizing lecture on the contradictory social conditioning of women as some kind of grrrl power rallying cry.”

Levinson has denied that the unseen critic is a stand-in for Walsh, though that hasn’t stopped many viewers from interpreting Malcolm & Marie as a 90-minute axe-grinding session. It feels gendered. So whether it’s directed at me or at critics in general, I think [Levinson] should have disguised it a little bit better. Until talking to you I’ve been trying to be a little bit cryptic. I don’t think there’s enough of an arc there. You have to understand that he’s an asshole.” But you haven’t painted the picture enough to see, does Malcolm change his ways? I think I have learned every lesson in this business by making the mistake.