Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Emma Seligman (00:05):

I think that once I figured out that I was queer, had lived a little bit of a queer life for a few years, I think that that just changed every sort of movie that I dreamed up in my head.

Jessica Bennett (00:18):

I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:19):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:21):

And this is In Retrospect, where each week we revisit a cultural moment that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (00:25):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (00:28):

Most of the time we look at the past, but sometimes we want to hear from someone who is changing the pop culture future. Today we’re handing over the pod to our amazing associate producer, Sharon Attia. She’s talking to Emma Seligman, the director of the delightfully funny gay fight club comedy, Bottoms, which Harper’s Bazaar called a horny masterpiece.

Sharon Attia (00:47):

Hi, I’m Sharon Attia. I’m the associate producer and researcher on the show, and I also happen to be Emma Seligman’s best friend. Emma is the writer and director behind my favorite movies of all time, Shiva Baby and Bottoms.


Shiva Baby is this claustrophobic indie hit that follows a college student who runs into her sugar daddy and ex-girlfriend while at a shiva with her parents. And Bottoms is a recent blockbuster about two lesbian losers who start a high school fight club to try and lose their virginities to the hot cheerleaders.


Since Emma’s films are redefining the canon of queer comedies, movies that we’ll for sure look back on in retrospect, and because these are exactly the kinds of things that Emma and I talk about, I invited her on to chat about movie making today, queer representation, and how that’s changing. Here’s our conversation.


Hi, Emma.

Emma Seligman (01:36):


Sharon Attia (01:38):

That’s my intro for you.

Emma Seligman (01:40):

I love that. That’s such a sweet intro.

Sharon Attia (01:42):

So, for our listeners who don’t know your meteoric rise and just every amazing thing that you’ve ever done, maybe we’ll give them just some brief background.

Emma Seligman (01:56):

Yeah. Okay. I’m from Toronto, where I am right now. And I feel like I just grew up in a family of film lovers. No one in the industry, but in a community of people who love watching movies, which is honestly most of the city of Toronto, I would say, because of TIFF, the film festival here.


There’s just something about living here where everyone’s very culturally in tuned with what’s out. And I was always interested in movies. When I was nine, I submitted a movie review for this contest to become a juror for the kids’ film festival that TIFF ran.

Sharon Attia (02:34):

Do you remember what the movie was for, that you wrote the review?

Emma Seligman (02:38):

So my parents never took me to kids’ movies, and they barely let me watch kids’ TV shows if they were in the room because they were bored by them. So because this was my choice, because I got to see the movie, I really wanted to see this Ice Cube movie called Are We There Yet?

Clips (02:58):

A comedy about how far one man will go-


Hey, how you doing, baby?


I want to say hi to the kids.




I love you.


… to become part of the family.

Emma Seligman (03:03):

And I ended up writing a bad review, which I didn’t expect to do, because I think I was so snobby from the tastes that my parents had instilled in me that I was like-

Sharon Attia (03:12):


Emma Seligman (03:12):

… “This was cheesy and unrealistic.” And I think I was the only kid that submitted a review that was a bad review. But yeah, I did that festival, and that was the first time I’d really seen a lot of foreign films and independent films. And so, I don’t know, I feel really lucky my parents encouraged me to watch movies whenever I wanted. I didn’t do sports or anything like that, so it was just like that was my hobby.

Sharon Attia (03:38):

Same. Girl, same.

Emma Seligman (03:42):

Girl, same. We all had to find something. And then I started directing theater in high school, because I really loved acting for fun. And then I just learned more and more about acting through our drama program, even though it wasn’t an art school, it just had good teachers.


And I was really lucky. My mom was very encouraging about me going to a US school, which is not an easy decision to make when you’re not from the US. But I just figured, if I got in and if they were going to spend that kind of money, then I really needed to be serious about whatever I was choosing to pursue. And then that’s how I came to movies.

Sharon Attia (04:22):

And how you came into my life-

Emma Seligman (04:25):

Oh, yes!

Sharon Attia (04:26):

… because you moved to New York to go to NYU. And we met, I want to say, within the first week of school, Welcome Week.

Emma Seligman (04:34):

Mm-hmm. That was the first time we hung out.

Sharon Attia (04:36):

And that was 10 years ago.

Emma Seligman (04:36):

I know.

Sharon Attia (04:38):

And since then, we’ve both come out as not straight. Love that for us. So let’s talk about the intersection of those two things, your queerness and your movie making.


So your first film was Shiva Baby, which was a short film, your thesis film. And then you went on to make the feature, the set of which I got to be on for a couple days, which was just so fun to be a fly on the wall and see you make that film.


But it was so different from Bottoms, and that was a tiny, nonexistent budget indie. And then Bottoms was this huge, your first big studio film. You have a huge cast, so many extras, these big high school scenes. But at its center are these hilarious, incredible queer characters.


And Shiva Baby, which also stars Rachel Sennott, also has a bisexual character as the lead. And so, did you always know that you wanted to make movies with queer characters at the center, or that just kind of happened organically?

Emma Seligman (05:40):

I think that happened organically. I think that, especially for Shiva Baby, what drew me to that story was the Jewishness of it. I’ve known that I’m Jewish for far longer than I’ve known that I’m queer. I think as a kid, I saw myself more in the Jewish characters and got more excited in seeing Jewishness on screen.

Sharon Attia (05:58):

That’s so interesting.

Emma Seligman (06:00):

I’d only seen Jewishness portrayed on screen with a little bit of hokeyness and-

Sharon Attia (06:04):

Yeah. Stereotype.

Emma Seligman (06:06):

… just super stereotypical characters, especially when it came to Jewish women, like the Jewish mom. So I’ve always been driven by telling Jewish stories because that’s my world. Those are the characters that I know the best.


Especially going into college before I really had a sense of myself and my identity as a young person or as an adult, or as a queer person or as a woman even, I think that I felt like, “Okay, I got this community down.”

Clips (06:33):

Mom. Mom, mom, mom. Who died?


Abby, Uncle Marty’s second wife’s sister. You remember her.


No, I don’t think so.


She used to play bridge with Bubby.






Oh, mom, I can’t eat that.


Why not?


I’m vegetarian.


You’re killing me.


I’ve told you it so many times.


You have not eaten a single thing all day.


That’s because we just got here.


You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps.


Oh, my God.


And not in a good way.

Emma Seligman (06:57):

While developing the short film in school, like my thesis, it wasn’t about this bisexual love story. It was about this girl coming face-to-face with her lack of self-worth.

Sharon Attia (07:09):

And running into her sugar daddy at a shiva, which is this-

Emma Seligman (07:13):

Yes. Running into her sugar daddy at a shiva and-

Sharon Attia (07:16):

… incredible premise.

Emma Seligman (07:17):

… and letting that make her feel like a little child. And that was the main focus of that. And then I started getting more curious about queer characters in other genres of movies. I think Transparent really changed the game in terms of-

Sharon Attia (07:31):

Kind of that intersection of both of those things, right? Seeing Jewish characters and different types of queerness, and different relationships with sex.

Emma Seligman (07:40):

And real characters, too.

Clips (07:41):

Now that you want to be a woman all the time, do you still want to date women?


Yes. I mean, Shell, it’s still me.


So you’re a lesbian.




So we got gay married before it was fashionable.

Emma Seligman (07:56):

That was a real moment of feeling seen in so many ways, all in one. And at that point, I was out. I barely understood my queerness yet, but I was aware of my identity. And also, there’s characters in that show who are discovering their sexual identity. Many of them are discovering their queerness in different ways.

Sharon Attia (08:17):

And so with Bottoms, did you know that you wanted it to be this queer teen comedy, or did you want to make a teen comedy and the queerness just followed?

Emma Seligman (08:29):

I knew that I wanted to make a teen comedy and that I wanted it to be queer from the get-go. There was no, “We’ll see what the sexualities of these characters are.”

Clips (08:38):

We teach a bunch of girls how to defend themselves against the evil Huntington Killers. They are grateful to us. We build a community. We bond, we share, we connect. We’re punching each other. Adrenaline is flowing. Next thing you know, Isabel and Brittany are kissing us on the mouths.

Emma Seligman (08:57):

I think that once I figured out that I was queer, had lived a little bit of a queer life for a few years, I think that that just changed every sort of movie that I dreamed up in my head.


But I really missed the teen movies of our childhood, and of just before our childhood, that really honored the teen characters as humans and as people. And honored them with quality filmmaking that, at the time, I don’t think we appreciated.


Because teen movies would always get bad reviews, especially if they were female-driven, like, “It was cheesy and unrealistic, and they were repeating the same sort of storyline about a bet, or some sort of lie, or turning Shakespeare on its head,” or whatever.


So that was part of why I wanted to make a teen movie. And I think also, one of our producers, Elizabeth Banks, says something like, “You can’t underestimate how much young people want to see themselves on screen.”


I think that when it comes to seeing myself and seeing other queer people on screen, then teen movies were the first place that I went to, probably because those were the movies that I loved the most growing up and also feel the most universal. I think that no matter how old you are or what your gender is, or your sexuality is, everyone can relate to a teen movie to a certain degree.

Sharon Attia (10:17):

I didn’t even realize. I guess I had associated teen movies so near and dear to my heart because I watched them semi around that age. But in reality, I actually still hold them close to my heart because I think that that time in your life, the stakes feel so high.


And so, everything just feels important, and it is important. And so playing within that world and that genre is just so fun, because I think everyone’s on board.

Emma Seligman (10:45):

Well, that’s why Olivia Rodrigo music hits so hard for anyone of any age-

Sharon Attia (10:51):

Oof, love.

Emma Seligman (10:52):

… but older millennials especially, because I think-

Sharon Attia (10:54):

Olivia, if you’re listening.

Emma Seligman (10:57):

No, because it’s like that time just feels so unnecessarily emotional, and it’s easy for people to put themselves back in those… Or maybe not easy, but there’s a frame of reference that you can put yourself back in when you’re watching these youthful stories.

Sharon Attia (11:14):

Speaking of teen movies and how we’re growing up during what I would say is a golden age of the teen movie canon in the ’90s and early 2000s, can you talk to us a bit about some of your references for Bottoms or any sort of inspo that you had?

Emma Seligman (11:31):

Yeah. I mean, I do think the late ’90s, early 2000s, the Kirsten Dunst era, was the heyday of teen movies. Everything from the super campy cult classics like Drop Dead Gorgeous-

Clips (11:42):

I never liked her, but she didn’t deserve to die in the belly of a swan like that.

Emma Seligman (11:47):

… and Dick-

Clips (11:48):

You can’t let dick run your life.

Emma Seligman (11:50):

… Bring It On-

Clips (11:52):

This is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy.

Emma Seligman (11:53):

… Jawbreaker. There’s those campy, female-driven, often dark movies. And then there were the male-driven comedies like American Pie, which I loved growing up. And then-

Sharon Attia (12:08):

I loved American Pie.

Emma Seligman (12:10):

I mean, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That. I think that as we got into the mid-2000s, we were very lucky. And I mean it. She’s The Man and Mean Girls felt really female-driven in a strong way that was complicated, and fun, and silly, and stupid. And got to place these women at the center of these funny ensemble movies that had also a little bit of edgy humor to them, despite the fact that they were PG-13. Especially Mean Girls.


And then there were still more, not bro-y, but there were more boy-driven teen adventure movies also around that time. Like Kick-Ass is one of my favorite movies, and Scott Pilgrim.

Sharon Attia (12:57):

Yeah, you love an adventure movie.

Emma Seligman (12:58):

I love any saving the day, fighting to get the girl, fighting to save the world, and doing it with your friends and being stupid. And then of course, Superbad, which just changed the game in terms of just how funny teen movies can be. Just how funny the teen sex comedy can be. I mean, American Pie was hilarious, but Superbad, that changed the genre as well.

Clips (13:22):

This guy’s either going to think, “Here’s another kid with a fake ID,” or, “Here’s McLovin, the 25-year-old Hawaiian organ donor.” So what’s it going to be?


I am McLovin.

Sharon Attia (13:48):

I feel like a lot of the things that I’m seeing, because I famously will consume absolutely any piece of content that is both teen and queer, is that a lot of the storylines are moving away from showing sex or horny characters. And maybe this is because, for so long, that was the only thing that was focused on. People are just obsessed with, “But how do queer people have sex?”


So it’s either a coming out or a traumatic story, or it’s so dripping in sexuality that there’s no nuance and they’re not complete, human characters. Is that something that you’re noticing as well in terms of queer representation, horniness versus innocence, all that jazz?

Emma Seligman (14:32):

Yeah, definitely. I understand that critique of telling queer stories that go beyond what our sex lives look like and how sex works, and trying to explain that to a straight audience. But I think that when it comes to telling queer stories for young characters with young characters, I’m very grateful for the amount of progress we’ve made in queer representation over the last even five to 10 years.


But I think that there’s almost been a little bit of a course correction because for so long, not to get too deep into it, but queers were, in media or in our culture, seen as perverted, and mentally ill, and on the outskirts of society and fucked up.


And so, our media representation has done a 180 where we’re trying to showcase that queers, especially queer teens, are human too. And aren’t just sex-obsessed perverts, and have emotions, and have crushes, and have innocence, and have sweetness, and have problems in our lives.


But I just don’t know, especially in the world we live in today, any teens that aren’t having sex shoved down their metaphorical throats. Sex is everywhere and it’s talked about so much, and it’s fed to us through so much media when we’re young.


And the talking about sex, whether or not you’re having it, or wanting to have sex or not wanting to have sex, or thinking about the pressure to have sex or whatever, is so pushed upon young people.


So I can’t relate to a world in which you’re a teen and you don’t know about sex or have any interest in talking about it or thinking about it. And so, in telling stories about teens in general, I just think that that sex is part of it.

Sharon Attia (16:21):

You said that you definitely saw yourself in Jewish characters. But was there ever, even before you were out, any sort of queer representation that made you think, “Oh, that’s something else.”? Because I feel that way sometimes when I’m watching things now where I’m like, “I wonder, would I have come out sooner if I had all of these shows and movies?”

Emma Seligman (16:41):

Yeah. It’s not as simple as like, “Oh, I’m in high school and I see a gay movie, and I go, ‘Ugh, that makes sense. That’s me.'”

Sharon Attia (16:48):

Right, which is often the conversation about representation. It is so important and it does matter, but it’s not so simple as like, “And then I see myself represented, and now I know who I am and I’m okay with it.”

Emma Seligman (17:00):

And I’m so okay with it.

Sharon Attia (17:02):

No, it’s going to introduce a lot of questioning, existential crises. But was there anything that sent you spiraling like that that you watched when you were younger?

Emma Seligman (17:13):

I didn’t have anything that sent me spiraling, but I definitely felt like when I would catch moments of queer women on screen, it would freak me out and make me feel honestly disgusted a little bit. I would never say that out loud or anything, but I think that, one, that probably has to do with just a lack of representation. Queer men have been advancing on screen quicker or historically more than queer women.


And two, also because clearly there was something deep down that was ashamed or something. I don’t know. I remember catching bits of But I’m A Cheerleader or Debs on TV, and being like, “Ugh.” I think the biggest moment, which is such a cliche, but when I saw Jennifer’s Body in theaters, I think I was 12 or 13, and during that kiss between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, I remember feeling horny and was freaked out. I was like, “This is not good.” And I buried that away.

Sharon Attia (18:15):

You’re like, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Emma Seligman (18:17):

Yeah, exactly. I was like, “Mm-mm, this is not… I see men and women kissing all the time and I don’t have this feeling.” Not that I was thinking that consciously about it, but I was like, [inaudible 00:18:30].

Sharon Attia (18:32):

That sound.

Emma Seligman (18:32):

I think that I found it easier to watch and enjoy storylines with queer male characters because it allowed me to see something I hadn’t seen, where it was touching a part of my soul and heart, but it wasn’t so close to home where I saw myself and got freaked out.

Sharon Attia (18:56):

So as we’re wrapping up from the super fun and flirty convo with my bestie, I guess my question to you, Emma, is what do you hope to see from queer filmmakers moving forward? What are you excited about? What do you want to see on screen?

Emma Seligman (19:14):

Honestly, I’m just so excited for queer filmmakers to make whatever they want to make and to indulge in whatever their imagination wants to provide to us that we’re lucky enough to receive. I think that I would love to see more queer characters just livin’ their lives. I know that sounds so basic, but I think that the more specific the representation is, the more universal it is.

Sharon Attia (19:41):

For sure.

Emma Seligman (19:41):

I think I’m most interested in seeing queer stories that are highly specific, that give us windows and peeks into queer people’s lives, in their relationships and in their communities, and in their friendships. Because that is the way that I discover my queerness and more about myself, and what it means to be queer or be in a community that’s not part of the mainstream.


So again, I’m excited to see whatever it is that queer filmmakers want to do in the next generation. But I’m most excited, I think, in to continuing to tell intimate queer stories that feel highly specific, and therefore, more authentic and universal.

Sharon Attia (20:27):

I love that.

Jessica Bennett (20:29):

I love that too. Susie, you and I are back next week. What do we have in store?

Susie Banikarim (20:33):

I’ve been dying to talk about a scene in Devil Wears Prada that has me thinking about women, and work, and ambition. And honestly, my own ambition. So that’s what we’re going to get into.

Jessica Bennett (20:44):

Ooh, can’t wait.

Susie Banikarim (20:50):

This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a pop culture moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected], or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (21:03):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify, or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram, which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (21:13):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also, check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (21:22):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart Podcasts and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Emily Marinoff is our producer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (21:37):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Our mixing engineer is Amanda Rose Smith. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (21:54):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.