“Shiva Baby” began as a 2017 short film by NYU student Emma Seligman based in part on her upbringing as a queer Jewish woman. Now, she’s turned it into a feature film that has earned rave reviews on the festival circuit, including at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.
Seligman joined the film’s cast — Rachel Sennott, Polly Draper, Molly Gordon and Dianna Agron — to discuss the film with TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman. Seligman said she first cast Sennott in the lead role for the 2017 short because she thought she looked Jewish…ironic considering that she isn’t.
“It’s a horrible thing to say! I don’t know, she had big, bushy eyebrows and long, curly hair and I thought that this is someone who looked like she could be in my family,” she said.
Sennott plays Danielle, a Jewish college student who is dragged off by her parents to a shiva. For you gentiles out there, a shiva is somewhat similar to a wake and is part of the weeklong mourning period in the Jewish community following a funeral. The shiva quickly becomes a rough ordeal for Danielle, as she is forced to give repeated, coached responses from her parents to questions about her career aspirations and her love life. What’s worse, she discovers that her sugar daddy, Max, is at the wake with his wife, as is her high school ex-girlfriend, Maya.
“What I related to the most…is that as a young woman, the power that you have that comes from youth and from your sexuality,” Sennott said. “And you can use that, but there’s a limit. Sometimes you think you have more control than you do, and I just really relate to those shifting power dynamics in the relationship that Danielle has with her sugar daddy.”
Check out more remarks from the “Shiva Baby” team in the clip above.