When I imagine moving to New York, I – like Jeremy Hersh – would imagine a “progressive paradise”, only to be disappointed by the fact that flawed and imperfect people live there too. We often find ourselves at a crossroads between simply appearing progressive and open-minded and following that attitude through in morally complex situations. Chatting with Jeremy Hersh and Jasmine Batchelor, they shed some light on the process of writing, directing, and acting in The Surrogate.
Jeremy Hersh’s The Surrogate places us in this situation when Jess (marvellously performed by Jasmine Batchelor) becomes the surrogate for her best friend, Josh (Chris Perfetti), and his husband, Aaron (Sullivan Jones). When the baby is diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, this chosen family finds themselves in a scenario that strains the solidarity of their friendship.
“Now we have (as queer people) a lot of the same privileges as everyone else, we have to deal with a lot of the same complications as everyone else”. This same inclusion in family-building that others have had easy access to has brought about the same devastations and heartbreaks, except the extra layer of indignation is worth exploring among queer and POC families. The need to earn ‘what everyone else gets to have’ is a palpable undercurrent in The Surrogate and Jasmine helped shine a light on why that might be.
Jasmine’s approach to the film was significantly informed by her reading of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and examining “the boxes we put ourselves in”. Jeremy had previously touched on the tendency of otherwise privileged queer groups to fall short in their advocacy of other groups that have also been historically marginalised.
“We need to examine our alignment with whiteness”, Jasmine added, “we often find ourselves striving for our place in a white supremacist world instead of equity and equality amongst each other”. It was clear to see after this comment that the characters of Josh and Aaron were happy with Jess to be part of their chosen family, but only up to a point. Rather than giving Jess the same agency that the couple had over their family (and also Jess’s body), there was hostility as soon as she challenged their decision regarding her pregnancy.
This isn’t to say that Jess is a perfectly innocent character. Jasmine points out that “Jess cannot plan ahead and has a problem with respecting boundaries […] and she definitely handles certain situations in ways that I just wouldn’t”. However, it does open up a discussion about the power dynamics that are laced into the characters’ relationships.
“She [Jess] taught me a lot about myself, which I didn’t particularly want at the time! She taught me a lot about people-pleasing and to examine the roles of my friendships and relationships […] this is what acting does: it teaches you things about yourself that you maybe didn’t want to know.”
Jeremy picks up on this point as he reveals his frequent disappointment in queer spaces where he expected to see some diversity of all types, seeing “different groups being pitted against each other” instead. When unpacking these dynamics that we see in spaces that we might usually call progressive, there is still an air of “patting oneself on the back” rather than advocating for each other. Jeremy transfers this feeling to The Surrogate by asking “what kind of boxes are we drawing for black women where it’s not acceptable if she steps out of it”.
Jeremy notes that “particularly among gay men, there’s a tendency to place women (especially black women) on a pedestal […] but the thing about a pedestal is that it’s easy to fall off of”. Both Jasmine and Jeremy’s approaches towards the characters and their interactions definitely brought some clarity to The Surrogate and the complications that might not make as much sense in traditional cereal-box families.
The Surrogate is now out in UK cinemas. For more information and tickets, head here.