Is Shiva Baby Based on a True Story?

‘Shiva Baby’ is a comedy film that revolves around a free-spirited but aimless Jewish bi-sexual woman, Danielle, who has to contend with a myriad of different internal and external conflicts that arise at a Shiva. It is written and directed by Emma Seligman and has received critical acclaim for its portrayal of a young woman’s anxieties, effective representation of Jewish and bisexual women, impressive score, and a tight screenplay. If you are curious to find out whether the movie (especially Danielle’s struggles) is based on any real-life incidents or true stories, we can certainly provide some insights. Here’s everything we know about the story behind ‘Shiva Baby.’

Is Shiva Baby Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Shiva Baby’ isn’t based on a true story. However, it has been very loosely inspired by several real-life experiences of the film’s writer-director, Emma Seligman. The feature is based on a short film that Emma made as a part of her thesis project during her film studies. Seligman developed the short film based on her hilarious yet uncomfortable experiences at Shivas and combined it with a group of sugar babies she came to know during her time at NYU. Upon encouragement from the lead actress Rachel Sennott, the director began to expand the short film’s idea and turned it into her feature film directorial debut.

The term “Shiva” in the title references the Jewish ritual of mourning, which lasts for seven days after a family member’s burial. The word ”Baby” is a reference to Danielle acting as a sugar baby to Max. In an interview with Boston Hassle, Seligman revealed that the film underscores Danielle’s realization that her self-worth depends upon sexual validation.

Emma noted that it is a central theme of the movie and said, “I feel like it’s pretty universal – a lot of young women, young people, not having self-worth beyond sexual validation.” The director also added that it’s something that hindered her own self-acceptance in her college days. In a separate interview, Seligman addressed the similarities between herself and the character of Danielle. The filmmaker said that as she was writing the movie, she subconsciously drew the character (Danielle) from her personality and psyche.

The 2020 Outfest Film Award-winning screenwriter added that she tapped into her personal anxieties as a young woman navigating the complexities of power dynamics, sexuality, and self-worth. Seligman also cited the film ‘A Serious Man’ directed by the Coen Brothers as a major influence on ‘Shiva Baby’ along with films such as ‘Transparent,’ ‘The Graduate’ and ‘Opening Night.’ She noted that the sense of claustrophobia and tension in these movies helped her during the writing and directing process.

While the elements of Shiva and sugar babies are real-world concepts, most of the plot and characters in the film are fictional. It is clear from the director’s words that she channeled her personal struggles to add a sense of relatability to the movie. The film’s universally prevalent themes of struggles with self-worth, exploring one’s sexuality, and the anxieties rising from them give it a semblance of reality, allowing the audiences to connect with the characters emotionally.

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