Jillian Leigh Says White Girl Problems are Still Problems: Q&A with the 'City Baby' Star

Many creatives out there are trying to articulate the post-millennial hipster experience; from Lena Dunham’s Girls, to Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Broad City, to more serious works like Benjamin Dickinson’s First Winter, or Tim Heidecker’s The Comedy. Then there’s City Baby, a recent film directed by David F. Morgan, which he also co-wrote with its star Cora Benesh.

Despite the criticism (specifically from Bitch Magazine) of the film’s two spoiled female leads, Cloey (Cora Benesh) and Paige (Jillian Leigh),who skip work to sip on PBR in their Ray Bans, I feel that the film is just a modern spin on an age-old tension between a young woman’s dreams and her ability to use romance to keep her from facing her fears.


Jillian Leigh’s character, Paige, experiences this first hand, as her plans to move from Portland to Brooklyn are stalled by a new found love. I spoke to Leigh, a passionate professional in her own right, who provided some insight into some of the film's deeper themes.

Q: There's been a lot of talk from other media outlets about how City Baby is just a "white girl problems" movie, with un-sympathetic characters. How do you feel about this? Do you agree?

 A: As much as City Baby is a story about music, parties, and fashion in Portland it also touches on several more universal themes and questions of self esteem, abusive relationships, courage, growth, and friendship. This particular story is told through the eyes of Cloey & Paige, two twenty-something, middle-class, and yes- caucasian women.  I am interested in telling a story about the epidemic of young women with incredibly low self-esteem, and very few role models to look to, no matter what their course of life. If we address that issue, we could better see the deeper themes. Those "white girl problems" are actually very real problems. One of the biggest is how women use the struggle for achieving aesthetic value as a suit of armor which (we hope) makes us less venerable to the very real loneliness just on the other side.

I think treating any struggling character unsympathetically is a misstep. It sends a strong message that sympathy is conditional. All people have the right to have their voices and struggles represented through story. This is one story. But it’s not the only story. And it's as important as any other story of struggle. The real value of the human experience is inherent in our ability to learn what we need to from all walks of life. If someone chooses to watch City Baby and only sees the superficial aspects of the main characters they've missed the point.

City Baby is a love letter to a wild social scene in a very specific time and place…It's fast paced, sexy, funny, awkward. People will recognize a lot of characters and situations from their own laissez-faire party days. It was hugely fun bringing it to life on screen- and for all these reasons, I would ask people to look beyond the criticism, to the deeper value of how paper-thin these girls wear the armor they believe they need to to live in the world they feel they must live in.

Your character was pretty snarky. How do you relate to her?

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I relate to speaking my mind… quickly and with passion.

Do you think City Baby is feminist? Explain how it is or isn’t.

Feminism is equality for all people. City Baby is a story about people making choices. So, yes.

Do you think Paige made the right choice?

Yes. No choice is permanent and she did what she wanted without fear of judgment or loss. I also like that she didn’t ask a bunch of people for advice. I’m guilty of doing that — Paige is more confident than me maybe.

Do women have to choose between love and their dreams? Paige's struggle really begged that question and I'm sure a lot of people can relate.

I don’t know the answer to this yet. I wish I had more examples in my life of women/people who have it all. But, that concept is an illusion anyway. What are your dreams? Maybe they involve love. For a woman to have a family and a career is still new to our society. Every woman I know battles this and it’s a horribly confusing, very personal struggle. I would ask that as a community we continue to blur the lines of these lifestyles so that very black and white things have some room for gray.

Your performance was so natural and real. What types of roles do you hope to play in the future?

Thank you! I function much better in a narrative. I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to work with like-minded creatives who are at the top of their game.

City Babe is out April 22nd - be sure to go to their website and check it out!

This is a guest post written by Olivia Saperstein.

Images respectively via citybabymovie.com and IMDB

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