We are gradually starting to see more overt representation of modern day sugaring on our screens; take the 2018 Italian Netflix series, Baby or 2016 series. The Girlfriend Experience.

When two days ago, my phone pinged with a dm from an old friend, have you seen Shiva Baby? It’s right up your street! I opened up my laptop and pressed play.

 

Shiva Baby Reviewed By A Sugar Baby
Rachel Sennott and Danny Deferrari in Shiva Baby. Photo from Green Left.

 

A girl runs into her sugar daddy at a shiva

 

The film opens with a scene I’m all too familiar with. A young woman and older man fucking in his flashy bachelor pad. Afterwards, as she wriggles back into her silky black cami, they casually discuss her next client before sharing a more heartfelt moment of long stares and embracing.

Finally, he hands her a wad of notes as they say their goodbyes. This is the strange relationship that can materialise from sugaring, one with elements of genuine sentimentality, but which always maintains a certain transactional detachment and an understanding that you hold no loyalties to one another.

What often blooms from these arrangements  is a unique experience that gives a gateway for both baby and daddy to escape from their everyday lives. During this time, they can be someone else with the comforting knowledge that this person will never enter the sphere of their real life.

That’s why the worst situation imaginable would be bumping into one another at a huge, chaotic family gathering…

The next time we see the young woman from the opening scene (Danielle), she’s looking a lot less like a young woman and a lot more like a teenage girl. 

It turns out her next ‘client’ is in fact non existent. Instead, Danielle is required to attend a shiva ( a Jewish mourning tradition) with her overbearing family.

The series of unfortunate events that entails is kicked off by Danielle discovering that Maya, seemingly a family friend and secret ex is in attendance. Whilst being bombarded by her nosy relatives asking intrusive questions, Danielle then catches the dreaded sight of Max, the sugar daddy she had just parted ways with, casually conversing with guests across the room.

Soon after, she learns that he has a very beautiful, very successful wife, and not to mention a baby who are en route to the shiva.

In return, Max learns that Danielle is not using his money to pay her way through law school as she claimed to him. No, her major is in fact the less socially regarded gender studies. What’s more, her family pays for everything, so his contribution is just extra dosh.

As the rest of the film unfolds at the increasingly claustrophobic shiva, where Danielle avoids her relatives, tries to win Max’s attention whilst addressing the sticky situation with her ex, it becomes clear that she is at that strange stage of her life, not quite knowing who she is or where she’s going, and grasping for control in whatever way she can.  

 

Realistic sugaring

Writer and director Emma Seligman made the short film on which the feature is based whilst at NYU, where many girls on the course were sugar babies . It’s really cool to see modern day sugaring represented realistically on screen.

Danielle isn’t this super materialistic bimbo gold digger, neither is she a victim of the system, forced into sugaring as a result of financial difficulties.

She’s your everyday college girl with wealthy parents who are clearly emotionally and economically supportive. I know many girls like this who sugar. Danielle is at a point where she is caught between girl and woman; she’s lost, and meeting older men who find her ultra hot and give her money makes her feel powerful and validated.

In my opinion this is a huge reason why sugaring is currently so popular. Although we see that Danielle’s long term port of call is Max, we also understand that she still meets other men and has a fairly blasé attitude about it.

This again was great to see on screen as a huge misconception of sugaring is that you only have one daddy. Most babies see multiple daddies, and most daddies see multiple babies (despite what they may say!)

 

The double self

The feeling of being caught between girl and woman when coming-of age is one of the most poignant aspects of the film.  I found that sex work, especially sugaring heightens this feeling, partly because your ‘girl’ personality and your ‘woman’ personality have to be kept very separate due to the secrecy and societal shame surrounding sugaring.

On one hand, Danielle is still a girl to her family, who infantilise her to a degree that she can’t bear. She clearly feels pushed to prove herself as an adult.

On the other hand, Max and presumably the other daddies view her as a confident young woman and expect her to converse as if she’s their age. So she puts on a more mature front around them. The reality is that she is not quite either of these personalities. 

Max is happy to enjoy the positive aspects of Danielle’s youth, her innocence, her appearance etc. but when the more negative aspects of her youth are revealed; her need for validation, her pettiness and lack of control, he doesn’t want her.

Danielle can’t deal with this, and so ensues her breakdown. In this way, Shiva Baby also acknowledges some potential negative aspects of sugaring.

To all you daddies out there, you can’t have your cake and eat it! Don’t expect your sugar baby to possess all the youth of a girl and all the maturity of a woman, ‘cos that’s just unrealistic.

To all you girls out there sugaring or considering it,  you might watch this film and think, perhaps this sex work thing isn’t so empowering after all. The truth is that it depends on you and your own headspace.

Sugaring because it makes you feel powerful and confident is great, but relying on sugaring for power and confidence is not so great. 

Shiva Baby is a hilarious, sentimental and intensely claustrophobic coming-of-age. In a climate where casual sex work is not uncommon, but the huge stigma surrounding it remains, this story is crucial for young girls who sugar or otherwise to know that they are not alone.

 

Watch Shiva Baby on Mubi or Amazon Prime.   

Art
Films
Sugar Baby
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Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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