Brow Beat

With a Conversation Between Barry Jenkins and Greta Gerwig, A24’s New Podcast Is Off to an Amazing Start

The hilarious story of a fateful Zumba class shows the importance of representation behind the camera, not just in front of it.

Greta Gerwig, Barry Jenkins.
Greta Gerwig, Barry Jenkins.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Reuters.

This morning, A24, the wildly successful film company behind such recent indie darlings as Moonlight and Lady Bird, released the first episode of its new podcast, a freewheeling and fascinating conversation between Barry Jenkins and Greta Gerwig. The two writer-directors reflected on what it means to pay homage to their hometowns, how the reality matched up (or didn’t) with their childhood memories, and the challenges and advantages that came with it. They also revealed how close they came to not pursuing their directorial dreams at all.

“It took me a long time to fully admit to myself that it’s what I wanted … it felt like a too-big thing to say,” Gerwig explained. “Saying, ‘I wanna be a writer-director’ felt like, ‘Okay, and I also want to go to the moon.’”

Jenkins admitted he faced a similar problem. Unlike Gerwig, he went to film school—but he went with no intention of becoming a director, because “other than Spike Lee, I didn’t know any black people who made films.” He settled upon writing, which felt more doable. If not for the fact that his alma mater made him try everything, he may never have discovered what he really wanted to pursue.

The moment of truth for Gerwig? An “off-brand Zumba-type thing” at the YMCA on 14th Street:

I was there, and they were like, “Just scream what you want as loud as you can.” And I didn’t—I honestly screamed, out loud, “I wanna be a director!” And I didn’t know that I was gonna say that. And that was the first time that I said it out loud … I think I was on enough sets, and I was paying attention, and I’d been around a lot of people, and it just reaches a point where you’re like, “Even if what I make is terrible, it’s scarier to have not made it than to make something terrible.”

It took more than an inspirational aerobics class to get to that point, however, and seeing other women trying to break into the field was key. Until she met Ry Russo-Young in her senior year of college, “I had never met a woman, a young woman, who said she wanted to be a director.” Russo-Young actually gave her a list of other female filmmakers—one that she notes would be a lot longer in 2018. “I’m so excited for whoever’s 15 right now!”

Jenkins was similarly optimistic, reeling off Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, Justin Simien, Dee Rees, Jordan Peele, and others as potential role models for black teens with similar aspirations. It’s a testament to the importance of representation behind the camera as well as in front of it, opening up the roles women and people of color can inhabit and the stories they’re able to tell.

That we almost lost out on two voices now dominating the cultural conversation forces listeners to think about the people and narratives that didn’t make it, or haven’t yet. There are still plenty of obstacles (both Gerwig and Jenkins talked about dealing with budgetary constraints, and Jenkins was warned by a friend that taking on Moonlight could be “career suicide”), but the work can be life-changing for viewers and creators alike. And as Gerwig says, it’s scarier not to have tried.

Read more in Slate:

Greta Gerwig on Lady Bird, John Hughes, and Being “Ready” to Step Behind the Camera

Moonlight Director Barry Jenkins on What Scared Him Most About Making Such a Personal Film

Alex Barasch is Slate’s science intern. He writes about biology, culture, LGBTQ issues, and where they intersect.