Abbi Jacobson on reinventing its own league with Penny Marshall’s Blessing – News Kidda

Abbi Jacobson and her Your own competition co-creator, Will Graham, has long shared the belief that the 1992 film doesn’t need to be remade.

So when Jacobson and Graham’s episodic version of the Penny Marshall title hits Amazon on August 12, they’re both hopeful that the show, which also stars Jacobson, will feel sufficiently different.

“We love those characters and that angle in this day and age. We’re not trying to do Dottie and Kit again,” Jacobson says, referring to the now iconic roles of Geena Davis and Lori Petty. “I’m in no way trying to pretend I’m Geena Davis.”

The series, for which they got the blessings of Marshall, Davis and original co-star Rosie O’Donnell (who also made cameos), explores topics of sexuality and racism that were largely left out of the original. Graham (who has a deal with Amazon) and Jacobson have spent the past decade investigating the private lives of the women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The wide city creator-star serves as the series’ protagonist, Carson, a ballplayer who discovers a whole new community after falling in love with a teammate.

Speaking from her Eastside LA home via Zoom in late July, Jacobson, 38 – who is dating actress Jodi Balfour (For all mankind) for two years – opens up about the opportunity to visit again wide citytrying to direct her hand and why she’s fed up already Your own competition is described as a ‘queer show’.

After wide city ended, how did you feel about the sequel?

wide city was an amplified version of me. So much of my personal life was wide city, but the tone was raised. The things I wear all hats on – wide city and this – me [can’t] help that [they’re] super personal. It’s the only fuel in my tank. How I experience the world, what I perceive, how can I fold that into whatever story I tell? I feel a great responsibility in this show to tell these other stories that are based on real women, but where a lot of me is fused together.

This is not a remake. Is it fair to say it’s more of an extension of areas the movie didn’t get to?

We want to talk about stories that were overlooked. We were talking about that throw. [In the movie, a Black woman retrieves a foul ball, indirectly nodding to the league’s racial bias.] We’re not trying to tell the story of white women who were allowed to play baseball in the 1940s – it was told. Ours is about that generation of women and what happens when that door opens for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and many white women and white women have that opportunity. But what happens when it’s closed? What happens if Chanté Adams’ character, Max, is not allowed to try? Max is based on three women who played in the Negro Leagues.

“I did a lot of what I called ‘memory cards’ right after I graduated, exploring places in my life that were important to me, from an aerial view of memory,” said Jacobson, an alumnus of the Maryland Institute College of Art. “This one (I think – this was a long time ago) is part of the front of the house I grew up in.”

Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Both you and Will are part of the LGBTQ community. Do you think that helped make the show?

I think it helps us tell the stories we tell on the show. I don’t know if that necessarily helped us sell the show. I don’t think that’s why I would want to sell anything. But I also feel like if two queer showrunners come in and tell you that there’s a really important overlooked story about queer history, maybe that’s a more reliable reason to make it.

How concerned are you about leaning so heavily on LGBTQ themes at such a dangerous time for the LGBTQ community?

It has never been dangerous. But what the hell has been going on for the past few months?! I’m glad this is going out now, because I’m angry, and I think it’s more important than ever to show more representation in this way. The fear is that people will see the poster and think we’re making a wake-up version of Your own competitionwhen in fact it is more truthful to what was happening at the time.

You and Will met Penny Marshall before she died. What questions did you have for her?

It was a 15 to 20 minute conversation. She was really sick; it was just before she died. We felt so lucky to have the opportunity to receive her blessing. We came on the scene with the foul ball and the black throwing it back. Penny said she felt like she couldn’t tell all the stories in the allotted time and wanted to nod to the other important parts, like that throw. We have more real estate for that. No one is queer in the film, and yet it is an iconic queer film. It’s just hanging in the air, and I don’t think that was intentional per se. That’s the atmosphere and the way you feel when you watch the movie, when you feel and look a bit like an outsider. And many gays think so. We were talking about the strangeness. Penny told this story in 1992, and that was a very different time [in terms of] what stories were accepted for a huge studio film. If it’s hard for us to do it now, it was for her then.

“My favorite pen (at the moment): Staedtler, pigment liner 0.3,” she says

Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Is it difficult now?

When the show is referenced all the time [with the descriptor] “queer” for it, it’s not bad, but we’re still in a moment where we label things as a “queer show”. It’s like being called ‘a female comedian’. It’s split off until it’s just called a show or a comedian.

We talk a lot about who can or should tell which story. Do you think the movie would get the green light today, given where the industry is with diversity? It was written by two straight white guys.

I don’t think it should be without acknowledging some of that [Black woman’s] throwing did it for us. It is not explicitly stated in the film that she was not allowed to try. There are flaws in the original league, just like any setting. As a kid I kind of digested that: “She’s so good and she can’t play.” It’s not [crystal clear] what is the reality there. If that movie were pitched right now, it would have to feature the stories we do, and that’s why we’re doing it.

The legendary Maybelle Blair – who just came out at the age of 95 – is one of about 20 former AAGPBL players you consulted. What stories about the league and its players were important for them to be reflected in the show?

They shared what it meant to them to be in the league at the time. With Maybelle, we haven’t talked about queerness for a while. We broached the subject at a dive bar that she loves and took us to for dinner. I said it felt like there were some parts missing from the movie that related to queer women. I told her that Will and I were strange. She took a deep breath and said, “I never really said this, but I’m strange.” That was the first time outside of her small community she’d said that. That was so early in our development cycle and from then on we became close and shared a lot with each other.

A drawing by artist Helen Rae. “Rae was deaf and non-verbal and used fashion magazines as a source of inspiration. Her style is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen and does all the things I look for art to do – inspire, awe, ignite and ground me.

Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

When it was first reported in early 2018 that you and Will were developing Your own competition, there were no plans for you to star in it. What changed?

We always wrote this character in my voice with me in mind. It’s tricky because I wasn’t sure when we’d end wide city. This was and is a terrifying thing to begin with. I had to wait until I liked what we were making.

In this age of reboots, any interest to revisit wide city?

wide city ended in spring 2019. That wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like 20 years ago! Ilana [Glazer, her co-creator and co-star] and I’m always talking about the fact that we would only do it in a way that makes sense to us. When it gets to a point where we can’t stand not doing something together, we do it. I can’t imagine not doing more with Ilana.

So, what’s next for you?

We hope we can do another season [of League]. The next thing I’m excited about after I’m on vacation is a short story I picked by Lorrie Moore that I want to write as a film and it’s my first foray into film directing. It’s tonally different from anything I’ve done before.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the August 3 issue of News Kidda magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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