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Zendaya Said People Are "Not Ready" To See Her As An Adult After "Malcolm & Marie" Sparked Age Gap Backlash

"It's hard for people to wrap [their heads] around the idea that I am grown in real life."

Posted on January 28, 2021, at 7:17 a.m. ET

Zendaya has responded to criticism of her upcoming movie Malcolm & Marie after its trailer sparked a debate over her age gap with costar John David Washington.

Zendaya from the shoulders up in front of a curtain with indistinct text on it
Steven Ferdman / Getty Images

While the movie has received generally positive reviews from critics, some viewers weren't happy with the 12-year age difference between the couple at its center.

Malcolm (Washington) hugging Marie (Zendaya) from behind while she looks down
Netflix / youtube.com

The film — which was shot in just two weeks under strict COVID-19 restrictions — tells the story of filmmaker Malcolm and his girlfriend, Marie, as they return home from his latest premiere. They spend the night discussing their past relationships while they wait for critics' reviews.

The movie was filmed while Washington was 35 and Zendaya 23.

People argued that the significant age difference between the lead actors was indicative of a larger problem in Hollywood.

Anyways, my criticism of the film is that Zendaya could’ve gotten a male costar HER age. John almost 40 years old. It’s tiring for me...

Twitter: @westsidemani

I really hope people realize that no one is saying Zendaya is a bad actress or person for that movie but that the practice of casting younger actresses with men that are older than them is a symptom of bigger problem in Hollywood.

Twitter: @bobbytries

But others jumped to Zendaya's defense, saying critics of the film simply weren't seeing the actor as the adult woman she is.

zendaya is older than margot robbie was in 'the wolf of wallstreet' and keira knightley was in 'pride and prejudice' so if you can't see her play an adult woman, which is exactly what she is, then that's your own issue i think

Twitter: @hollygolightIy

see how yall praise margot robbie being 22 in the wolf of wallstreet but now say shit like zendaya is too young for malcom and marie???

Twitter: @anyaspascal

And it looks like Zendaya herself agrees with them. Speaking to E!'s Daily Pop on Wednesday, the 24-year-old said she understands why people have trouble seeing her as an adult.

"I've played a 16-year-old since I was 16," she acknowledged, referencing her Disney Channel shows Shake It Up and K.C. Undercover. "You have to remember people also grew up with me as a child."

Zendaya looking off-camera in front of a background with HBO logos
Phillip Faraone / WireImage

She explained, "It's like watching, I guess, your younger sibling — now they're grown, and you're not ready for it."

"It's hard for people to wrap [their heads] around the idea that I am grown in real life, even though I do play a teenager on television still," she added.

It was something Zendaya spoke about earlier this week during an interview with Carey Mulligan for Variety's Actors on Actors, admitting that while she is "grateful" for her "Disney kid" roots, the label left her wary of taking risks.

"I've always felt that I could bring things to the table: that I could be creative and free to try things, and put out bad ideas," Zendaya said. "Because of the Disney kid thing, I get scared of that kind of thing."

She went on: "[Disney Channel is] where I started, and I learned so much from that experience. It's just kind of been this slow progression, and I am happy that it's all been to prove it to myself and not to anybody else."

As for Washington, he seems equally unbothered by the Malcolm & Marie backlash, telling Variety in an interview earlier this month that he "wasn't concerned about it."

John David Washington wearing a suit and looking off-camera
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

"She is a woman," Washington said of his costar. "People are going to see in this film how much of a woman she is."

Marie and Malcolm having an intense conversation sitting outdoors
Netflix / youtube.com

"She has far more experience than I do in the industry," he went on. "I've only been in it for seven years. She's been in it longer, so I'm learning from her. I'm the rookie. I was leaning on her for a lot."

"What I'm really excited for people to see when the film is released — they're going to see how mature she is in this role," Washington concluded.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.