On the heels of her first Emmy win for Euphoria, Zendaya is branching out. Her latest project is a black-and-white romantic drama — written and directed by Euphoria's creator, Sam Levinson — that's already getting Oscar buzz. But as excited as fans are for this next step in Zendaya's career, there is something about the new film that's giving some of them pause — and that's the age difference between Zendaya, 24, and the actor co-starring as her love interest, John David Washington, 36. In a new interview, Zendaya addressed the Malcolm & Marie age gap backlash.
Zendaya is perhaps the most successful of the Disney teen queens to seamlessly transition to more mature work. She went from Rocky Blue on Shake It Up and Katy Cooper in K.C. Undercover on the Disney Channel to the transitional role of MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming (also a Disney-produced film) before switching gears to the sex-and-drug-filled Euphoria.
But even though Euphoria is a mature-audiences show, it's still a teen role (even though Zendaya is now reaching her mid-20s). Malcolm & Marie, however, represents the next jump she has to make: to films in which she plays a full-grown adult.
Malcolm & Marie is the perfect vehicle to do that. She's working with Levinson, who has written and directed her as Rue in Euphoria with great care and consideration. And she's paired with Hollywood royalty in John David Washington, son of Denzel. Due to the nature of filming during a pandemic, it's just the two of them in the movie, making it a strong showcase for her acting abilities.
But, there's still the issue of the 12-year age gap between Zendaya and Washington that some fans just can't get past. The practice of pairing young female actors with older male actors in romantic situations is nothing new in Hollywood. However, the outcry against this practice seems especially strong for Malcolm & Marie. In a Jan. 27 interview with E!’s Daily Pop, Zendaya explained why that might be:
I've played a 16-year-old since I was 16. You have to remember, also, people grew up with me as a child. It's like watching, I guess, your younger sibling now, you know, they're grown ... So it's hard for people to wrap around the idea that I am grown in real life.
Clearly, Zendaya is ready for fans to realize she's no longer 16 and cannot play teens forever. At some point, the jump has to be made, and Malcolm & Marie just might be her golden opportunity. However, it seems like fans are a lot less worried about the beloved actor playing "grown-up" roles than they are about overarching concerns regarding sexism and ageism in the TV and film industry.
Malcolm & Marie premieres on Netflix on Feb. 5.