Mal Wright refuses to wreck your home (even if you ask her nicely). The breakout star of Netflix’s The Ultimatum: Queer Love has had to deal with the “wildest DMs” since she rose to fame this summer when she and her ex-partner Yoli Rojas signed up to work through their relationship issues on reality TV, both hoping the drama would lead to marriage. Now, Wright is fielding offers from couples to join their marriages. “I have husbands reaching out to me and sending me Cameo requests like, ‘My wife is in love with you. You don't know this, but you're basically our girlfriend in our relationship,’” she tells me over Zoom from Seattle, where she’s visiting for the first time since the show was shot in the city. “I saw one comment where this woman was like, ‘I will leave my husband and kids for you.’ And I'm like, No, we're not doing that! A home wrecker is what I'm not.” Wright laughs as she recounts the “lawless” DMs she’s had to sift through, her signature dimple shining with every chuckle.
It’s no wonder Wright became the definitive reality TV heartthrob of the summer. Her calming presence on a show with the most chaotic premise served as an aphrodisiac for a thirsty audience desperate for someone to root for in a sea of messy characters embroiled in relationship turmoil. The Ultimatum: Queer Love followed five couples, one half of the pair issuing a final demand: get engaged or break up. They coupled up with other people, some splitting for good and others reuniting over a season full of shocking betrayals, lots of tears, and relentless theatrics. It was Wright’s partner Rojas who suggested going on the show, and who was pushing for marriage. Rojas then started an intimate relationship with another contestant, Xander Boger, and based on what we saw, let’s just say, she wasn’t as open with Wright as she should have been. There were many conversations between the couple that were hard to watch, but it was fascinating to see Wright keep her composure amidst drama dialed up to 100.
“It was only three weeks with each partner. With Yoly in those three weeks, it was easy for me to hold space. We had been in therapy every week for a year prior to that,” Wright shares. “In isolated situations, it's easy for me to sit and hold space and hear what you're saying and process through it. That could not have lasted longer. I would have absolutely broke. I might have yelled or [said] something that people didn't expect for sure, because I think there's only so much that you can take.” Wright also explained that while filming only lasted 10 weeks, the cast had to wait two years for the episodes to air. So the reunion show was filmed two years after Wright and Rojas got engaged on the show’s finale, only to break up a few months later. Wright says that she was in contact with her ex “until kind of recently.” And their communication, Wright admits, was mostly trauma bonding. “Contact was very brief, like, ‘How are you doing? How's your dad? How's the dog?’ You know, we're both going through something that's kind of traumatic — all of us on the show are. Nobody understands it like we do. It’s like, ‘I'm not talking to you, but are you okay?’”
The Ultimatum: Queer Love made for incredible TV, a rare moment where the timeline was united over their lust for Wright (seriously, just search “Mal from The Ultimatum” on Twitter) and rabid for the messiness, but the series also felt really real. And Wright says that it was. “What you saw is real. I've never not been a really gentle person who wants to hear the whole problem in its entirety [and] because of how I was portrayed, it feels like people are waiting for that moment that you are somebody different than what they saw on this little snippet of your life on a television show. They're like, ‘Oh, she was way too calm,’” Wright says. “Nobody questioned ‘Did she go to therapy? Maybe she's using the tools therapists have given her.’ Why is it so surprising to you that me as a Black woman could be so level headed?”
“I try to make sure that it's very clear that I am not a monolith for Black queerness."
As a “masc[uline] presenting” Black queer person on the show (and the only Black cast member), Wright also knew she was being held to a different standard. “I didn’t know I’d be the only Black person in the cast until that first party. And immediately I'm like, ‘Oh, snap, okay, I see what this is,’” Wright looks around suspiciously, taking herself back to the set of The Ultimatum. As she’s telling this story, I know that any Black person who has unsuspectingly rolled up to a room full of white and non-Black people can relate. And in this case, these were people she was supposed to date. “It gets a little frustrating when dealing with the public — sometimes your own community — being like ‘She doesn't date Black women.’ That’s just not true. I actually have historically only dated Black women.”
When Wright was confronted with the reality of being The Ultimatum: Queer Love’s first, and only, Black participant, her first thought was about how she would be portrayed on the show. “I just wanted to make sure that whenever they did get to editing, it's done the right way. Don't give me the angry Black woman trope because I'm not that. Don't do that to us. And in fact, most of my friends aren't that either,” Wright is getting animated, not angry, recounting her feelings. “Or I’m masc-presenting so now I’m [portrayed as] this extremely butch, toxic, masculine man. Like, that's not it either,” she says. “I try to make sure it's very clear that I am not a monolith for Black queerness. I'm just a really, really tiny, tiny fraction of a really large library of Black queer stories that should be told right. Talk about our stories, put more of us on these shows.”
It’s refreshing to see Wright become an object of thirst in a world that ignores Black women — especially Black queer women — and continuously denigrates us when it comes to desirability. “Oftentimes, we don't meet the model for what society says is desirable or whatever that benchmark is for desirability. We don't always see that in mainstream media, but we know that historically, our bodies have been sought after,” she says. “We just don't get we don't get the highlight or the credit in mainstream media the way that we should. It's really nice to get the credit, you know? Sometimes it's nice to hear it and not be hypersexualized or exoticized or fetishized. It’d be nice to get the credit and just be the standard of beauty.” Wright still doesn’t consider herself “sexy,” but she knows that her presence is part of the shift away from antiquated beauty standards and gender norms pop culture has pushed on us for decades.
I'm just a really, really tiny, tiny fraction of a really large library of Black queer stories that should be told right. Talk about our stories, put more of us on these shows.
Wright extends the same thoughtfulness she puts into the representation she brought to the show to her encounters with fans. “There's a lot of care when handling public interactions,” Wright says. “In reality TV, we’re accessible in ways that other celebrities are not. People really feel like they went through it with you. They cried with you. It can get exhausting when you're giving genuine parts of yourself to a shit ton of people every day, every time you go out,” she says. “And I think it's important to do so. I'm just trying to find what that balance looks like and how to handle when people say outlandish things to me.” One particularly strange interaction Wright remembers was when a man approached her, thanked her for the representation she brought to the show, then said, “But fuck you, dog,” Wright pauses for effect; she’s definitely told this one before. “And I'm like, ‘What is wrong?’ He's like, ‘My girlfriend and I got into a fight. We broke up because she said, ‘You don't talk to me the way Mal talks to Yoly. So thank you, but also, I'm so mad at you!’ I was just like, ‘I can’t hold that. Do you want to hug? I don't know what to tell you.’ What am I supposed to do with that?”
I can imagine there are a lot of fan interactions that Wright doesn’t know what to do with, because aside from being such a shining example of a caring partner that she breaks up relationships (sounds like that man’s girlfriend made the right move – good for you, sis!), she is, simply, very hot. And in the world of influencers and thirst traps, being extremely attractive can get you far. But Wright isn’t trying to find her soulmate on social media. “My presence on social media has changed a little. It's a lot more selfies and things like that, curated photos. And my TikTok really shows me and all of my corny glory. I'm just a goofy person, so I have a hard time believing if it's real or not,” she says. “How do I know if you really want to know me and shoot your shot that way, or if it's just for funzies, you shoot your shot and just keep it moving, which all of it is fine. Do all of it. But I don't know if it's a viable place for me to really be sourcing my next relationship.”
If Wright, who now lives in Atlanta, does start dating anybody, will we, the public, ever know about it? “Absolutely not,” she says with a laugh, citing Issa Rae, who hard launched her man on their wedding day, as her inspiration. “I keep saying I want to do the Issa Rae thing. She's so inspirational. She just popped out with this guy she's been with forever, married. And then put him back away from the Internet. Love that. Fully intend to do that.”
Another thing Wright has learned from a summer of fame? It makes sense to date someone who gets it. “I've learned it's really important to date somebody who understands what this very public facing world looks like,” she explains. “I've been in very interesting experiences with people I really thought it could really, really work with. And then that tune just changed when I became really public facing, and that is shocking when you're like, ‘What is happening here? I thought we were on the same page. We can handle this.’” Everybody shooting their shot in Wright’s DMs should take note. “It's super, super important to be with somebody who doesn't give a shit about any of this public stuff and just really just wants to be there for you. And love you for your humanhood.”
Wright’s focus isn’t on dating at the moment. And no, she’s not with Lexi Goldberg, the woman she partnered with during the show, but the two are still really good friends. (She also revealed she’s become friendly with Xander, which fans know means the tea is piping hot!) Along with looking into starting her own podcast, Wright is working on a “bespoke jewelry situation” with Goldberg’s dad. She also might get into acting and even met up with Lena Waithe’s team recently. Wright is in the unique position of having the world at her feet, and plenty of thirst in her DMs.
Unbothered is delving into the freedom and fantasy of desire with Thirst Week. We're unpacking lust in all its forms, sliding into DMs, and revisiting the nostalgia of childhood crushes.