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Screentalks Archive: Disobedience

17 Dec 2021
38 min listen

This week, we’re speaking not to a director, or an actor, but an author: Naomi Alderman, who discusses the film adaptation of her first novel, Disobedience.

Set in the Orthodox Jewish world, the film focusses on Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who revisits her community after the death of her Rabbi father, and develops an intense connection with Esti (Rachel McAdams), who is married to Rabbi, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). Naomi Alderman discusses the themes of the film, and her novel – community, faith, desire – and the interesting differences that a novel and a film can bring to a story, not least their endings. Directed by Sebastián Lelio (Gloria, A Fantastic Woman), this is a terrific film that puts women at its centre.


The ScreenTalks Archive podcast is presented by Ellen E Jones and produced by Jane Long for Loftus Media.

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‘I think this is a really beautiful movie. And it's the kind of thing where hopefully you would be able to open up some conversations.‘

Ellen E Jones: Welcome to the Barbican ScreenTalks Archive podcast. Every episode we're proud to bring you the most interesting insights into cinema from the Barbican's extensive collection of live q&a recordings. These conversations usually revolve around a filmmaker, but in this episode, we've got something a little different. Author Naomi Alderman is in conversation with the Barbican's Head of Cinema Gali Gold, talking about the 2018 adaptation of her 2006 debut novel Disobedience. 

We've featured discussions about films adapted from books on this podcast before, including Armando Iannucci on The Personal History of David Copperfield and Ben Wheatley on High Rise. But none of these have centred the author's perspective. Alderman is absolutely fascinating on what it feels like to see your own work, and a highly personal novel at that, projected onto the big screen and featuring big name actors, including Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. This does involve detailed discussion of the film's ending, so do beware spoilers. 

Disobedient stars Weisz as Ronit, the estranged daughter of a much-respected Rabbi, who must return to the North London Orthodox Jewish community from which she fled years earlier, when her father dies. There she awkwardly reconnects with two childhood friends who have chosen a different path. They are Dovid, her father's protege, played by Alessandro Nivola and his wife Esti, played by Rachel McAdams, and with whom Ronit has a particularly intense connection. Both Aldermen and Gold are Hebrew speakers. And so there's a sprinkling of Hebrew including one untranslated word, 'Rebbetzin', which means the wife of a rabbi. According to Alderman's approving note, 'rebbetzin' is also the only word that's mispronounced in the film. So let's hope my pronunciation passed muster. 

The extent to which art about an underrepresented community can or should be translated for the benefit of outsiders is a theme. Alderman was born and raised frum meaning religiously observant, in the community which Disobedience depicts. She explains how she helped the film's Chilean director Sebastián Lelio achieve a sense of authenticity, while also appreciating the usefulness of his outsider's perspective. Jewishness and lesbian desire are the particulars of Disobedience. But they're also universal truths about how individuals relate to the constraints of society, which director Lelio has previously explored, namely, in his 2013 Spanish language drama Gloria, his 2018 English language adaptation Gloria Bell, and the 2017 Oscar winner, A Fantastic Woman. 

Clearly these are also ideas that Alderman has been mulling over. She treats us to the most brilliant analogy for coming to terms with your own identity that you're ever likely to hear. Suffice to say involves Mr. Bun the Baker and a slice of cold salmon. 

I'm Ellen E Jones, and this is Barbican ScreenTalks with Naomi Alderman, writer of Disobedience. 

Gali Gold: So, so, so excited, I have plenty of questions. And I will ask only very few in order to make sure that you [the audience] also have the opportunity to engage with this great mind that is Naomi Alderman. Because I think that out of all the people behind the film, you present the most fascinating aspect of it, and I'll explain why. 

But one of the challenges of a book like Disobedience in a film that is based on the book, is actually the depiction and the representation of the Orthodox community. And this is, everybody knows a community that is very segregated, that holds a certain mystery to the outsiders. That is not exactly a fan of media or film representation. And I want to ask you to start off with asking you what are the challenges when you're faced with writing about that community? 

Naomi Alderman: Yeah, I mean, for myself, when I was writing the book, my challenges were, very much began, with internal self-censorship. I had this feeling that I definitely should not be writing this book, and that it was somehow a betrayal of the community to write anything negative at all, or anything that could remotely be understood by the non-Jewish world as at all representing problems or people were suffering, you know, I think probably what you learn growing up is, that the best thing, or if you have to write anything, which you probably shouldn't, the best thing to write would be 300 pages of closely argued praise. So here are all the things that are amazing about the Orthodox Jewish world.

 And when I was writing the book, I really, I ended up folding into the book that sense of I ought to be silent and gave some of those ideas to Esti and to talk about the value of silence. I remember God a long time ago now, but once going to a shiur like a talk by a woman, Rebbetzin, like learned woman, and the name of the talk, this is not a joke is 'The Beauty of a Woman is in her Silence.' So here I am, girly. 
GG: Quite good at talking. And of course, you are an insider. I mean, you grew up in that community and that enables you... 

NA: Well, I would say, I grew up frum I grew up religious. The particular family that I come from was intellectually open. And that is not the case with every family in the Orthodox Jewish world. But it was the case with [me], both my parents were big readers, and they encouraged me to go to university and, you know, wanted me to have a great education. 

So from that perspective, as every community, there are things that are in common and things that are different from family to family, as well as from street to street in Hendon and Golders Green. So yes, I grew up certainly, in a community where the homes in that movie, were homes that were open to me. 

GG:  I'm getting the sense of authenticity, and the kind of sense of entitlement when one comes to represent a community as such. So you were talking about that kind of notion of burden of representation. So that thing that is not represented often. And we find it, definitely when we think about gay representation. So then finally, you've got the one film, and that film surely has to be everything for everyone, which is obviously, you know, bound to fail. But I'm asking actually, because you had that entitlement, you're part of that community, you bring that authenticity, that, what we call access in film. But Sebastián Lelio, who we know from A Fantastic Woman just won last year, the Best Film in a Foreign Language category, Gloria... he is surely part of that community. So can you talk about that relationship and what it means actually, to open up even that book to someone who is supposed to tell that story on screen? 

NA: Yeah, so I had a lot of conversation with Sebastián here. So I was first approached by Rachel Weisz, who had loved the book and wanted to make it into a film. And there were many reasons that the approach that she suggested seemed very, very good to me. And one was that she came suggesting Sebastián was a director that she really wanted to approach. 

And I watched his film, Gloria and I could see exactly what she meant, that he is a filmmaker who makes beautiful films, what he says is women who might otherwise be a secondary minor character, a character that motivates somebody else's story, but in his movies, that they're right in the centre. And he so he had obviously, already been thinking about how to access experiences that weren't his own life experiences. And he was very concerned and interested to make sure that the movie was authentic.

And I think I be to be blunt, am I allowed to swear? 

GG: No need to ask Naomi Alderman To be blunt, I could have really fucked things up for them. If they had gone to make a movie that was not authentic, then I would be going around giving interviews going, well, unfortunately, they didn't get so many things right. But in fact, we worked together on it extremely closely, I looked at multiple drafts. Because I also teach in university, I would hand him these drafts back with like, things circled, and like, tick tick over here, a very good line, which I think perhaps he wasn't expecting. 

But yeah, I think the combination works well. Because I know the world back to front, inside out, I can tell you, there's like one word, I think that is slightly mispronounced, in that movie. Somebody says rebbetzin and not rebbetzin. And I think that's the only thing but you know, it's like one of those Navajo tapestries, where you have to put one error in to show that it's kind of made by a person. 

GG: So you were very, very, very involved in the production? 

NA: I was! We talked about it a lot and I introduced him to my family, my friends. So my dad is in the movie, my brother is in the movie, I, in this jacket, am in the background when Esti is in the kosher supermarket. You see you want to watch it again now, don't you? And I introduced him to lots of people within the community. You had them for Friday Night Dinner and for Shabbat lunch and sort of explained how the kitchen is laid out and all of these kinds of details and I think it's a really good combo actually, to have somebody who knows it well and somebody else who can see how it will look to someone who doesn't understand it at all. 

And is able to go, okay, because Sebastián's from Chile. So what will somebody from Chile be thinking when they see this? And will any of it make sense to them? And how can we help them understand it? 
GG: Because I think that that's the beauty of the book and the film is that you're not trying to translate, you're actually talking in the language of the community with the notions, with a particular terminology. And then they're kind of thrown into it. And then supposed to understand and get a better kind of insight. 

NA: And to trust people, that even if not everything is completely familiar, that they will come on a journey, and that they will understand the movie as a welcome open door to say, this is not supposed to be forbidding, you can come and be part of it. And there are parts that you won't understand just as if you were invited to synagogue for the first time. 

GG: Yeah. And you know, many books are made into films, but one that loves the book always is faced with this kind of, is it better? Is it? Did it do it justice? And actually, I want to come at it from a different point of view. And just to ask you, as the writer, and as someone who was so involved in the production, what do you think the film did, that the book didn't, or even to you as a kind of journey? 

NA: I mean, for me, seeing the film is incredibly moving, because I started work on this book 16 years ago, long time ago, and I was frum, I was an Orthodox Jew when I wrote this book, I was continuing to be Orthodox all the way through writing it. And it was only when the book was finished, and in fact, published, that this part of my life started to unwind, that that seemed like, Okay, that was somehow completed now. 
And there's something so compassionate about this film. It feels directly compassionate towards actual me, in this very odd way of being able to now look back at an earlier version of myself and go, Oh, yeah, that is a tough place. All of these characters are in a tough place, they have reached a point in their lives that a lot of people reach, in all sorts of different ways of feeling, Oh, that life that I imagined I was going to have, is not going to happen anymore. So I don't know what it's going to be now. I'm going to have to find out, that's really frightening. And that's where I was when I wrote the book. 

And I think the book is, I mean, look, as my first novel, I wrote it in a very instinctive way, in the way that a lot of people write their first novels. I mean, I there was craft, but not really knowing exactly why it was that I was writing that book. And I wouldn't have said at the beginning, Oh, I think I'm writing myself out of Orthodox Judaism. Yeah. But so I think there's a level of emotional defence in the book, and an unknowingness, which the film has stripped away and has a compassion for my own self that I was not expecting. So I don't know if that's the answer you're hoping for. 

GG: It's fascinating. I was just like thinking, you know, I read it, with great interest, the piece you wrote in the Guardian over the weekend, and you're talking about that process where you were, when you decided actually to leave everything, and to write your novel. And you were talking about it as a process of coming out, you know, it's coming out and just getting into that junction in life when you think, well, the path is quite clear. It's not even terrible. It's okay. But actually, that's not for me. 

NA: Yes, a lot of the time is people I know will say to me, Oh, well, you must have been very angry with Orthodox Jews. Up to a point, but I'm also angry with Britain. You know, there's all sorts of things in life one is angry about, it's just, it's not that I reached a point, Oh, this is all bullshit. I reached a point of saying, Yes, it's not for me. 

GG: And part of that, in that article, you mentioned another film, which is Sandi DuBowski, Trembling Before G-d. And this is a phenomenal film, made in 2001. 

NA: Yeah, it was released in 2001. 

GG: Exactly. And it was a sensational at the time, because it pictured the life of Orthodox, gay men and women within the Orthodox community, and you said there was a certain kind of path of coming out at the time, of people, their parents coming around and going for dinner, then they go and watch the film, then they come out. Yeah, so clearly, that was a very useful kind of toolkit. 

And I mean, when you see that, do you think it's also a kind of, not just the journey of the people who did it, but also a journey for the audience, a journey for people who go through this process, whether they are within this community or other close community? 

NA: I mean, it would be wonderful if that were the case. You can't write a book going well, I bet this book will be very important to people. You know, I bet I'm writing something here that people are going to be... you write the best book you can and you do it with a certain humility. But I think this is a really beautiful movie. And it's the kind of thing where hopefully you would be able to open up some conversations. And I have had fantastic letters over the years from people who say, I gave your book to my mother, and she read it. And then I came out to her. 

And yeah, then then we were able to talk about how that feels in the Jewish community or in Christian community, and a lot of different religious communities obviously have some problems with gay people. And so to be able to have those conversations, I think is yeah, the more the better. 

GG: Conversation, I think this is, on that note, a good time to open up. The gentleman over there, thank you. 

Audience member Hello. I'm like a lot of people here. I haven't read the book. But I'm fascinated by the director's previous works. And near the end, I was hoping that we're gonna go off together into the sunset. Bit romantic of me, I suppose. 

NA: We never know they might do that afterwards. It was interesting. When the film came out in America a little bit earlier in the year, there was people from the Orthodox community was going, Oh, this is very anti-Orthodox. And there was a certain response from some gay people saying, Oh, I wish this had been more like, you know, they bash down the patriarchy and run away together. And it's just... for people who are in this situation, and I know people who have been in this situation, and some who still are. 

If you are a sincere, Orthodox Jewish person, and you're also gay, there is no 100%, hurray, happy ending. There is no, Yay, I've like found the one thing because if you love that community, you may give it up in order to have the romantic and sexual life that you want. But you've given up something that is a warm communal life that might have been very dear to you. If you stay within the community, you continue to be able to be part of this faith community that is very important to you, but you give up on sex and romance that would be wonderful for you. So like, at what point do we go, Yay! 

I mean, I wrote this in the Guardian, the only thing that would really be a very happy ending is for the community to change. And I feel I will be continuing to give them a kicking for a long time and trying to encourage them. If you guys are interested in supporting somebody that is really trying to make a change, there is a charity called KeshetUK, which does a lot of work in the Orthodox Jewish community, just talking to rabbis and talking to educators talking to people who run youth groups to say, Okay, how are you talking about gayness in your communal events? And if a child were to come out to you, what would you say to them? And giving them the opportunity to be able to think those things through. 

So you know, obviously, I get nothing for mentioning this charity, but just like go and have a look at it. Because it's, yeah, that's the only real happy ending is if things become a bit different and a bit easier in the way the community works. 

GG: Down here please. 

Audience member: I'm totally naive to the attitudes of being gay in the Jewish Orthodox community, you just said attitudes need to change. But for people who do come out into the community, what is the reaction at the moment? I've got absolutely no idea. 

NA: Yeah, okay. So it very much depends on the part of the community that you're in. It's not a monolith. It also very much depends on your parents. So obviously, as everywhere, there are some parents who are just great, and who go, I love you, whatever, you know, you're you're my child. I think you're unlikely to get many people in the community thus far, who will go, That's wonderful, I'm so pleased! On the other hand, you’re probably unlikely to get that so much in the secular world, though, probably more than you would in the Orthodox world. 

There are people who, like get a much more stern response than that. And sometimes, obviously, parents are just horrible people. And as they often are in the world sometimes. And you know, there are just cases where you just have to kind of forget about the parents because you've got to go and live your own life. There are sort of specific Jewish communal issues where... all I'll give you an example. I was at the funeral of the parent of a gay man that I know he was [gay], and his family are Orthodox and his family have been sort of, okay, you know, they're like, All right then. And we were at this funeral conducted by the United Synagogue, that's quite a middle of the road synagogue. 

So my friend - give me a give me a man's name, please? Scott, my friend Scott. And what is his partner's name? Audience member Tony! Gali Gold Oh, absolutely. It was Tony. Naomi Alderman Ok so my friend Scott was the mourner, whose parent had just died, and Tony, his partner was there to support him. Every time. Every time the rabbi officiating was talking about the partners of the mourners, the officiant referred to them as 'the wives'. And there was Tony just standing there, kind of dealing with the fact that he was having to respond to 'and will the wives go and stand over here, please?' 

Yeah, so that sort of thing, where up to a point people are trying, but nobody has really thought about it, and the language has not evolved. And those kinds of conversations where you go, okay, Rabbi, what would you say to a child who came out to you, that is the first time they've ever thought about it? And no one has ever said to them, Okay, so if Scott is here, mourning his parent, and Tony, his partner is here, what word would you like to use that is not wives? Because the rest of us, the friends, I mean, obviously, you know, this is the way that the parent wanted to be buried. And this is the kind of community that they came from. 
And the rest of us the friends are just [gasps] every time you said it. Oh, God! But you know, just sort of carry on because we're British. So yeah, there's a spectrum. There's a spectrum. And there's some people who are just hateful and horrible. There are some people who are lovely, and there's a lot of like ignorance and thoughtlessness in the middle. 

GG: There is also of course, the issue of leadership. And that is quite, you know, there is a spectrum there.

NA: I mean, I should say, the Chief Rabbi has just released some guidance about preventing homophobic and transphobic bullying in Jewish schools, which is extremely sound and is all about putting respect for the person and dignity of all humanity and love for people at the centre of the way that we talk and being able to respond to, you know, a child calling another child gay, by just [saying] look, we don't talk in that way at the school. That's not how we show each other kindness in this school. So it's brilliant to read that. 

And I think it's already being circulated actually, in different faith communities around the world to say, this is a good approach, like cut the Gordian knot, don't sit around arguing about what verses in Leviticus mean, nobody is ever gonna be able to agree on that. Just treat each other with dignity and respect, zeuh as they say, in Israel, that's that. 

Audience member Hi. Obviously, there were like quite a lot of differences in the storyline between the book and the film, both in the way that Ronit kind of approaches the situation. And I was just wondering if you could talk about who made that decision and how it came up? 

NA: Yeah, so it's interesting, the ending is different. It seemed like, when I saw it, I thought, that's great. I don't fundamentally believe there's only one ending to this sort of story. And, you know, what are you gonna do about this? There is, I don't think as I say, I don't think there is a happy ending. So to just play with it and see, what else could you find in this situation? I think it's right. 

Also, things have moved on in the past 16 years. And I think it is, it's certainly more plausible that Dovid would be able to make an emotional leap there and just go, Okay, I think this needs to be finished now. And that the community might be able to somehow tolerate it, you know. I think it's, it's as realistic as the other ending, you know. People complained about the ending of the novel that they felt that it was unrealistically positive about the community. And I get that as well, just like, it was a sort slightly, this is my best-case scenario in the novel, where I think this is probably as good as they would get. And I think this is a different kind of best-case scenario. And that's all negotiations. 

Yeah, in terms of Ronit and her background, I think the essence of the character, to me is the same character. Film has its own medium, you know, and if you're a novelist, and you've written a novel, you know, there are things that novels can do that films can't do, novels can go inside a character's head at a moment's notice and jump from place to place. And then like, you can really get a lot of interiority into novel, which obviously, a movie is surface. So you need to find different ways to express things. 

And I felt Sebastián was a brilliant director and the cast is amazing. And at a certain point, in that sort of process, you have to say, I'm happy for some brilliant artists to be interpreting my work, you know. The existence of the film doesn't destroy every copy of the novel. It also strikes me as interestingly Jewish to have multiple versions. 

GG: And discuss them. Yeah. 

Audience member Hi. You mentioned that Judaism is not a monolith. And obviously, the secular community has kind of moved a bit faster with the times than the Orthodox. And I kind of wondered if you could comment on how that secular community could help those that leave the Orthodox community, whether it's because of LGBT issues or otherwise? 

NA: Yeah, that is a really interesting question. Yeah, helping people who leave, I mean, I have done a little bit of work just a little bit in this area, or at least, you know, encounter people who are in the process of leaving the Orthodox Jewish world, it's extremely tough. I mean, many of the reasons that it's tough is, for God's sake, please support the Department of Education, right now trying to get ultra-Orthodox schools, much more Orthodox than the schools you just saw in this, but ultra-Orthodox schools to fucking teach their children something. 

Because it is a shanda for the Yidden, it's a disgrace, that there are schools in this country that are not teaching secular subjects to children after the age of 12. In fact, the boys come off somewhat worse than the girls on this, because the girls are supposed to go out and be able to earn a living for their husbands who are going to be studying Jewish subjects all day. So the girls at least get to learn kind of typing secretarial skills, and the boys from 12 onwards, they have nothing that they can use outside the Orthodox world, they're going to be employed 100% in the Orthodox world. 

There are very, very bright kids who are essentially experiencing foot binding of the mind. And they call it, the fact that they're now being put under pressure by the Department of Education to actually teach some shit is I mean, obviously, they're teaching Talmud, right? They're teaching Yiddish and Aramaic, and Hebrew, and these are all wonderful, interesting subjects, but not at the expense of actually being able to speak English and go and interact with the modern world. 

So from that perspective, when well, meaning outsiders say, Oh, but we must leave them to their cultural ways, just sorry, fuck off, just like these are also human beings and children have a right to understand the world around them, and to learn what has been learned by science about where we live, and to experience the literature that has been written about what it means to be a human being. And yeah, that whole situation makes me very angry. So that's a good thing to do. 

Audience member Hello, hello, thank you so much. The book has become recently one of my favourite books ever. It's just, I felt like it was so personal in a way that not that many books managed to capture with several characters. And so one of the interesting things for me is that obviously, the combination of the three main characters approaches the situation from really different, not backgrounds, perspectives. 

But then all three of them in the book are so incredibly relatable, because their inner monologue is really, really detailed. So I was wondering how much of each of them is you? And how much isn't? 

NA: The honest answer is that all me, they're all me. And I was in a place of trying to reconcile different parts of myself when I wrote the book. And on some psychological level, it's a fable about reconciliation of different parts of the self. And obviously, it is also about characters who exist in one's imagination. So I hope that hasn't spoiled the book for anybody. But I think that that is often the case in writing, that you're writing about different aspects of yourself. In the book, Dovid gets terrible migraines, which I also get terrible migraines. So those are definitely my migraines. 

I mean, I would also say that the events of this film and indeed of the book did not happen in that way in my life. There are elements of different parts of my life, but it's not a piece of autobiography. But the ways of thinking about the Orthodox world and about what is worthwhile in life, which is somehow what it's about, you know, is there a value to keeping on with this thing that is old and precious and beautiful? Or is there more of a value to living a free life according to your own desires? 

These are questions that are still they're still alive for me. Do you know there's a prayer, the Shema, the prayer in Hebrew, where one of the verses has [recites part of the famous Jewish prayer ‘Shema Yisrael' and focusses on the command which forbids temptation], ‘don't go wandering off after your heart and after your eyes.’ Tell me if I've mistranslated. 

And that's a very deep and interesting thing to have in a prayer like, doesn't the whole of secular society tell us to go wandering off after our own hearts and our own desires? So then what's the right thing to do? It remains a big question.

GG: Ah, one thing, that you mentioned about the similarities about being Jewish and being gay, talking about identity, because this film is about identity, about belonging, about mortality, about who we are, what we want to be. And you talk about the fact that you can be a little bit gay, a little bit Jewish-ish, that’s enough, that’s enough to make you one. 

But that does not mean you have to practice it. And there’s this whole notion actually of Judaism, does it exist without practice, does gayness exist without practice, and what we see here is actually, you have to get onto the practice, in order to…well we’re not gonna talk about that scene just now.

NA: It’s a good scene though right!

GG: But I want to talk about that, because the whole thing about giving voice, you talk also about giving visibility, about the doing.

Yeah, I mean Judaism is all about the practice, right? Judaism is more interested in the practice than what goes on inside your head and yet, say you’re Esti, but you’ve never ever kissed a woman, but you’re still gay, right? Even though you haven’t, you know that that’s who you are. But it’s complicated because if you don’t practice, what can it change?

GG: That’s the wondering 

NA: That’s also sort of one of the questions of the book... it’s funny, I met a lot of people who came up to me who said quietly – well, you know she never talked about it, but my mum was Jewish. And this made me so sad, that all that these people had been introduced to was some kind of shame. That’s when you don’t practice, that’s all you’ve got, is a dull sense of shame. So might as well try and see if you can make something new out of these weird pieces. 

I used to say, a few years ago when I was trying to make sense of my own bloody life, I said, Every one of us gets dealt a hand of cards in life, in everything from what you look like, to who your parents were, what community you came from, what particular intellectual gifts you had, what particular physical gifts you had, what your heart’s desires were. 

Some people get a hand and they go, Oh, I’ve got 2,3,4,5 and 6 of hearts, ok brilliant, pfft! And some of us look at it and go, Ok, I’ve got the 2 of diamonds, Mr Bun the Baker, a piece cut out from a cornflakes packet and a slice of smoked salmon. Ok! What you have to do, it means you can go and play in more games, but it’s gonna take you longer to get somewhere with all of them, you’re going to have to go wandering around, going, Has anybody else got fish? 

GG: Ok we’ve got time for one more question, there at the top, waving.


Audience member: Hello. First of all thank you so much for that story, it was just so beautiful and I couldn’t stop crying and I wasn’t expecting to cry

NA: I cried the first time I saw it as well.

Audience member: And I’m really looking forward to reading the book. I guess my question is, I feel like people who are part of marginalised communities, it’s so hard to find queer histories that we can relate to, like I find that myself, you’re looking for a glimpse of something, 100 years ago there was someone like me. Before you started to write the book, did you ever find any piece of literature, poetry, anything that made you feel like Oh actually, there is something. 

NA: I mean obviously David and Jonathan are there in the Bible, so that is helpful. And the Hebrew is a little bit, more suggestive than the English. So there’s a bit where they’re kind of parting and they embrace, and then, the English translator [puts] ‘They embraced until David exceeded’ [audience laughter]. I actually can’t remember what the Hebrew is…there’s some sort of ‘overflowed’. So that’s quite good. 
The Bible is, as long as you don’t treat it as every part of it is exactly applicable to how we should be living today, it’s a really good, interesting book. They put a lot of stuff in there, going Here’s some stories from our past. I’m trying to think what else I found. Actually this isn’t an answer to your question but it is an interesting thing. A student of mine, Beatrice Garrard, is working on a novel that includes, she’s Jewish, and it’s a novel that includes some Jewish history of trans people.

 And she used to work in Jewish Archives, and she found the most brilliant story of a couple, man and a woman who arrived at Ellis Island. And they used to sort of strip them to check their clothes for lice, or whatever. And on inspection, when they stripped them, the husband was found to be, according to the people who stripped them, a woman, and they sort of were like Hmmm. But they did an interview, Let’s talk to you about this. And after some conversation, they were like, No you’re a man, yeah, 100% you’re a man. So they signed him into the country and gave him his papers as a man and that was that. 
And it’s amazing what people are able to see and understand about the world if nobody has ever taught them that they ought to be politically seeing something different. So these stories were out there, but also you can make them up for yourself. 

You know that people like us just didn’t turn up from nowhere, there’s been all sorts of people doing different things throughout history, so if you can’t find it, make it up. 

GG: We talk a lot about the notion of mortality, actually you go on to recommend it, because it gives you a bit of perspective, and I think there’s something about books, there’s something about films, that preserve life, in a way that actually becomes these treasures, that we have that nobody can take away. It helps that Rachel Weisz is also helping. 

On that note, I would like to thank Naomi Alderman, waiting for her The Power to become a film. This is clearly a mover and a shaker and tell your friends of course, to come and watch it here at the Barbican. 

NA: Cos apparently that’s quite important that opening weekend, they tell me!

GG: It’s crucial!


EJ: Thank you for listening to this Barbican ScreenTalk on Disobedience, with novelist Naomi Alderman. You might be interested to know that her fifth and probably most famous novel, feminist sci-fi The Power, is also currently being adapted for the screen. The Barbican ScreenTalks Archive is full of shifting perspectives on timeless classics and hints at further viewing. 

If you’d like to hear more and support Barbican Cinema, please rate and subscribe to this podcast via Apple podcasts, Acast or your usual podcast providers or visit 
We'd also love to hear from you on the films featured in this series or anything else cinema related. You can find us on social media @BarbicanCentre. Barbican ScreenTalks Archive is presented by me, Ellen E Jones and produced by Jane long for Loftus Media.

We’ll be back next time with the final episode in this current series, a frank and hilarious discussion with actor Richard E Grant, about the film for which he received his first Oscar nod, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Until then, be well and goodbye. 

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