(Spoiler warning for major plot points)
Shiva Baby (2021)
follows college student Danielle (Rachel Sennott)
as she traverses intense interactions between her family, her sugar daddy, and her ex-girlfriend. To make things more awkward, this all happens during a Shiva
, a Jewish mourning ritual.
While not everyone may relate to the very specific circumstances Danielle finds herself in, they’re sure to empathize with her character on at least one angle. Throughout the film, varying facets of Danielle‘s identity are dissected and chastised. Predominantly, her being a woman, a college student, an LGBT person, and a sugar baby are picked apart. Sometimes these facets of herself overlap and go hand-in-hand with each other. For example, she as a college student is in need of extra money. And so, Danielle turns to sex work as a job. While deemed unconventional, it can pay decently and is relatively accessible for a woman to make income.
Although in recent times sex work has been glamorized, Shiva Baby
displays the unsavory underbelly that may come with the field. It’s great that sex work is becoming less scrutinized, however that doesn’t necessarily mean we should romanticize it. For some, a component of sex work is empowerment. Danielle even admits that’s partially why she started while explaining it to her ex-girlfriend, Maya (Molly Gordon)
. However, continually she is patronized and taunted both by Maya and her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari)
. They take up a condescending tone whilst speaking to Danielle. Maya specifically uses very harsh, slut shaming language towards her ex after she learns what she does. There's an extra level of venom in her insults as Maya in ways is the antithesis of all of Danielle's shortcomings (or at least perceived shortcomings by those around her). She has a clearer structured future than Danielle and comes off more charismatic to the interrogating Shiva goers. She is living her life as what's seen as “correct” way. Maya sets the bar so high that she casts a shadow in which Danielle finds herself ensnared.
Maya and Max’s wife Kim (Dianna Agron)
are put on a pedestal by the elders of the group for their ambition and the stability they have. With Danielle, it isn't as cut and dry, especially with her work. In the film, she uses the guise of “babysitting” as a cover for the money she receives from Max. Whether Danielle fully processes it or not, she knows what would happen if she was honest about where the income comes from. Admitting to being a sugar baby would open her to scorn, further judgement, and violence in the worst cases.
In the sense of liberation, sex work is a double-edged sword. In certain lights it can allow a woman to feel free and have power, but at the same time set her up for harassment and patronization.
During its hour and eighteen minute run time,