What Will People Say?: On The Fear Of Being Seen For Who We Really Are

'What Will People Say'

In private, we live our lives, but always with a hint of shame

In the early spring of 2017, Hasan Minhaj dropped Homecoming King, a comedy special so damn sincere it collectively resonated with audiences around the world, winning him a shiny Peabody and a new Netflix TV show. It was the first time (in America), I watched a brown man's comedy special and his brownness wasn't the elephant in the room, an accidental by-product of his very American birth. Instead, here it was, being celebrated.

And part of that celebration was linguistic. Minhaj had helped pioneer the art of saying Hindi, in a Western pop cultural stratosphere, with a cadence usually reserved for the romance languages. The way you'd flaunt French with a veneered opulence, saying croissant like some folks say LaCroix. With a similar sense of pride, Minhaj speaks Hindi as if it's always been in the American lexicon, defying the colonial shame that has locked brown folks into some subliminal social purgatory. It's okay to talk about a lota on Netflix, because who doesn't know what a lota is, right? All languages require respect—especially his own—and of careful, examined intonation.

A phrase Minhaj famously normalized is Log Kya Kahenge? Which directly translates as: What Will People Say? In Bangla, the language of my parents, it's: Manoosh Ki Bolbe? The tenor is the same, however.

Homecoming King rests many of its comedic observations on this weighted phrase familiar to many a brown child. Its haunting, ubiquitous attack has been leveled against many of us by our parents when our personal actions were deemed "too radical" for the familial unit. If you didn't know: Being born into brownness comes with the idea that we are all walking brand ambassadors of the manicured existence into which we've been bred. Posed often as a question, Log Kya Kahenge is actually an accusation, one that exposes how often surveillance (of self, and of others) plays into brown communities. It's a reflection of how we've accepted this reality, much like we've accepted the state's surveillance—from every FBI joke we make about being watched, we've normalized our own oppression.

It surprises me that our entire relationship with our parents, and our community, hinges on the fear of being seen for who we really are. Not the avatar—or the bio—but fully fleshed out beings of struggle, and consequence, and utterly beautiful failure. That's where our humanity resides, in the magical wonder of being imperfect creatures that are constantly learning; we are all in the Sisyphean task of being a human, and bound to our parents in a way that borders on sycophantic. We crave their approval, and when they ask What Will People Say, often to a relatively inoffensive act to most others, we worry—what will they?

Iram Haq, a Norwegian-Pakistani filmmaker made a movie with the same title (Hva vil folk si in Norwegian) in 2018, and even across languages, the sentiment is also the same. The film focuses on the life of Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) who is caught with a boy in her bedroom by her father (played terrifyingly well by Adil Hussain). The next few scenes seal Nisha's fate in an unforgivable way. She is kidnapped by her father and brother, escorted back to Pakistan (where, clearly, nobody has sex) and forced to start a new holier life where she shares a bed with her girl cousin on the floor, and passes time on abandoned rooftops, confused and frustrated.

Haq captures the loneliness of being a young woman in Pakistan. It's stark as Nisha turns and turns, locked in a daze, trapped with no feasible outcome. Soon she finds an escape. In the dark of the night, while everyone sleeps, she leaves only to witness the bleak dangers of the crepuscular outside world of leering men who see women only as bodies worth abusing. She finds her way back home to have her patriarchal aunt threaten her: Any funny business, and you're out. Days later, her uncle hands over a matchbook, then her passport, to make sure she burns it. She doesn't, so he takes a match to it, soon the pages of pale blue plastic fade into a ravaging smoke, a metaphor for both the price and fickleness of freedom.

'What Will People Say'

What is potentially the saddest reality of Haq's film is that there's nothing surprising or shocking about this film. As a young Muslim femme, I've seen it all firsthand. How the will of sanctity strikes you down. How many bodies are cloaked not for actual piety, but out of fear. The compass that directs so many South Asian cultures is what will people say, an unsaid suffocating dictum that controls the mechanics of everyday society, putting an emphasis on the morality of outsiders, creating an unjust and an unregulated system where everybody is a judge, jury, and executioner. As I watched it with my partner, a black American man, he paused halfway through and said, "This is a horror movie." Why watch Saw when you can watch the machinations of abuse in a family that disguises such things, surreptitiously naming them "care" or "love."

Keeping us docile in the continued face of unresolved and unfettered violence.

I imagine, like myself, more than a few brown kids feel like they could have done without such pressure. The impending doom of being incapable of impressing the unimpressible is quite a burden to carry. If South Asian parents, collectively, were an American Idol judge, they'd be Simon Cowell. In a constant, perpetual state of dissatisfaction. The occasional growl, the sometimes head nod, the rare gem of a toothless smile.

Though I can't speak for over a billion people, I can lament. When I was younger, Manoosh Ki Bolbe became a constant reminder of self-checking, of self-surveillance, knowing that to be brown meant to be on watch, constantly. Then, in my late teens, I didn't care anymore. I wanted out. I wanted to live my life, so I began to rebel.

After writing for almost a decade, and finding relative success early last year, my father asked me whether or not I wanted to return to law school. This is after many years of not talking to my parents, of choosing to declare that, with all due respect, they didn't know what was best for me. I was called selfish, I was regularly attacked over the phone by my mother. Despite not wanting to, my father questions himself thoroughly, wondering if he's a failed parent to have such a petulant daughter. He's sincerely afraid of what people will say.

I was born out of the womb not really caring what people thought. My parents would often detail funny information about me at dinner parties: Like when I once asked a group of older white women who were staring at me intently while riding the bus, if they were doing so because I was exceptionally beautiful. I was four. Or, when the one time when I was getting my Australian citizenship I told the mayor of Brisbane I didn't want it, because I was Canadian, and that was enough citizenships for me. I was eight. They liked the punchiness I had in reserves. But, once I hit my early teens, expectations of me changed. My mother wanted me to be quieter, more docile, masking it in language like "women aren't supposed to be so loud," going out of her way to compliment "sober" women, the opposite of me.

The irony is, I didn't grow up in an especially conservative household. My mother prayed five times a day, my dad just prayed magrib prayer, so the fourth one of the day. I never learned how to read the Quran in its entirety, but I went to Arabic school, every Sunday, a shoddy class taught by Bangladeshi moms who housed no verve, and had no explanation for my curiosity. At home, my father made me watch documentaries on the Al Hambra, Granada, and the Muslim rule of Spain. I learned about Ibn Sina, the original renaissance man, and I was astounded by the sheer fact that Islam had offered the world so much of its valuable knowledge—from algebra to modern medicine.

Through this, my love of Islam grew thick like a branch, sprawling with twigs and lush leaves. I related to all the parts that didn't feel ugly about my religion, like the philosophy that paralleled Rumi's devotion. The thought of hellfire felt dramatized, how could a God most merciful, full of clemency, allow such a thing? I theorized what God was nightly, as I started getting visions.

I saw my dead maternal grandfather in the backyard's long grass of our blue home in Sydney. Only minutes after he died in a bed at his home in Dhaka, Bangladesh, surrounded by a mosquito net-like layers of a sari, next to the controlled devastation of his wife and youngest daughter. Years later, I'd smell the jasmine of my maternal grandmother's perfume waft past me as I sat on a bed in my apartment in Outremont, Montréal, her dead just the year previously. I started seeing spirits regularly, and I began to communicate with them, learning the language of the vast conscious divide. This meant my capacity for spirituality expanded, I started to see things more holistically, I started to believe (I still do) Islam is bigger than what we've distilled it down to. All faiths are. Being close to God—no matter in what faith—is a divine transaction.


Why Minhaj's special is so particularly appealing is that the punch line isn't this question his parents have asked, my parents have asked, a constant threat... it's actually the breakthrough. It's the challenge of a notion we've all accepted. It's fighting back and saying not only is there more than meets the eye to us, but that there's something valuable in being your own person, who chooses happiness for yourself. There's a reason that all three of us (Minaj, Haq and myself) come from Muslim families, surveillance is a different relationship for many of us.

Watching Haq's incredible artistry ruptured a deep wound I've felt, and feel, for other brown, other Muslim kids. The longing we must feel, what I've felt my whole life, of wanting to be free—but of also wanting to be loved, holistically, for all that I am. Unconditionally. Nisha is young, she's bursting with sexual energy, she wants to know why bodies beat, why hearts tremor, why she feels wetness in places that make her come alive. The natural state of being a human. Not of being bad, or being demonic, but of being a body that quakes with sadness, finds peace at the sound of the azaan, as much as it pulses with desire. I felt that longing once also, disgusted by my own desire, but regardless, I craved affection, love, a tender touch like sunlight.

Depictions of Muslim-ness in media has always been fraught and lacking. Especially when being Muslim in the West means being bifurcated, straddling both your identities until death, unless you choose one over the other. The latter is common, but for me, it has been a balancing act. Being Muslim has always come with a sense of pride, knowing how much we've offered this world, and how much of that has been erased. This recognition has come with a steadied state of sadness, knowing that the fundamentalism of the new Islam, one curated by Western imperialism, has ripped its holiness in two. It's the feeling of watching a math equation go wrong: Faith plus humans shouldn't equal such madness. Such divinity should not cause such pain, such unreserved blood on our hands—such nervous abuse. I lament the children that have been lost to the spiraling tragedy of comparison—of what will people say—that has forced inexcusable and incomprehensible actions. I mourn the deaths in vein that have killed expressive daughters, or sexually fluid sons. I mourn us.

In Haq's What Will People Say, there's a scene at a top of a mountain, the scenic hills crisp with sunlight. Nisha stands crouched as her father holds her by the elbow, even just the geometry of the way he's angled her to the ground screams: bad power dynamic! Mirza, her father, is not an unredeemable figure. In fact, you sympathize with him throughout the film, compassionate to a clause he believes he's signed with God. One where he must kill his daughter before she becomes a slut. So, you loathe him as well. In scenes with Mirza, the patriarchy stinks, miasmic in every shot, like the one where he literally blindfolds Nisha to Pakistan, silent to her concerns, smuggling her into the motherland. To what? Change her? Purify her? The connotation that Pakistanis don't rape and pillage women and children, that its modesty, or Muslimness, has somehow bred better humans is an incredible lie.

At the end of the day, Log Kya Kahenge is a Catch-22. What it really means is do what we tell you, because we know best. So, many of us have been forced to become one-dimensional in our family's presence. We strip ourselves of our interests, what excites us, or stimulates us, our definitions, to become children who care what people will say—in public. In private, we live our lives, but always with a hint of shame. Always with a frustration that we are lying to our parents who refuse to see us for who we really are. I spent years lying to my parents because I knew being transparent would never result in anything. They've decided on their lives, maybe all we need to do is decide on ours?

A couple of years ago when I asked my kinesiologist why I was born into my family, he said: "I think maybe there's a lesson you need to teach them." Seven years later, I watch Nisha toil with her parents' strict boundaries upon her return back to Norway—no phone, no friends, a change of school—a way to disarm her, they believe, of her impure leniences. I remember how traumatic it is to be constantly challenged about who you are, by those who are supposed to love you. How isolating it feels to be born wrong, only to see other young people live their lives fearlessly, or at the very least, honestly. How confusing it is to witness this. I used to feel bitter when I saw children with loving parents. Hell, I still do. But, the older I get, the more I understand that sometimes parents need direction as well. In the end, Mirza understands this. Maybe, he begins to understand that it's not what will people say that God will challenge in the end, but why he ultimately never listened to himself.

'What Will People Say'

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

"I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter"

In a heart-warming Instagram photo, Serena Williams shares the history of hair braiding and the importance of the tradition. The tennis player shared a photo of herself braiding her daughter Olympia Ohanian's hair and spoke about how "honored" she was to be able to "add another generation" to the tradition of the practice.

The photo shows Williams attentively braiding her daughter's hair while Olympia smiles, obviously loving the experience. Williams noted that hair braiding was created by the Himba people in Namibia, Africa, and that "we have been braiding our hair for centuries." "In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe," she continued.

Williams pointed out that braiding is a bonding experience. "People would often take the time to socialize," she wrote. "It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world."

Williams closed her post with a sweet message about her daughter, saying that she's "honored to share this bonding experience" with her.

See the post, below.

Courtesy of Adidas

The Stan Smiths are a must-have

Adidas just shared its capsule of sneakers paying tribute to Keith Haring, and TBH I can already feel my wallet emptying (and they're not even on sale yet). The new collection features three shoe silhouettes, all including the late artist's iconic imagery as embroidered designs.

The standout style of the collection is the Rivalry hi-top; with bright blue and orange stripes and piping along the edges, Haring's stars and cartoon bodies, in black thread, pop right off. If you're looking for something less over-the-top, the quirky white Nizza Hi RF sneakers show a snake wrapping around the back of the shoe and chasing one of Haring's cartoon bodies toward the toe. There's also a minimal embroidered design on the toe of a classic Stan Smith pair. Look a little more closely at the tongue though, and you'll notice the traditional image has been swapped with a caricature of Haring himself.

Peep the three silhouettes, below, and set your calendar for the official drop at the end of the month.

Adidas, Rivalry Hi Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Nizza Hi RF Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

Adidas, Stan Smith Keith Haring Shoes, $120, available at Adidas starting at 10am EST on June 30.

NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.

Photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Hopefully this one will be typo-free

In an Instagram Live on Thursday, Taylor Swift announced that she would be creating a collaboration with fashion designer Stella McCartney inspired by her upcoming Lover album. Although she kept it vague, we can only assume that the two are working on a collection of luxe merch.

Swift noted in the announcement that she has been friends with McCartney "for a really long time," and that the designer already heard the new album. "I respect what she creates, how she creates it," Swift continued. "There's so much whimsy and imagination and romance to the clothing that she designs." Swift has been wearing McCartney's designs "a lot recently," so maybe we should have seen the collab coming.

One eagle-eyed fan pointed out that Swift wore Stella McCartney rainbow-hued shoes during her Wango Tango set. If the collab is anything like these shoes, you can bet I'll be copping it as quick as I can.

Swift detailed in her Instagram Live that the album Lover would be all about romance, which makes McCartney and her feminine designs perfect for the collaboration. We just hope that this collection doesn't have any typos, like some of Swift's "ME!" merch did.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

And spreads the message that "we all got crowns"

Late on Thursday, Taylor Swift dropped a new single, "You Need To Calm Down," and announced her forthcoming studio album, Lover, out this August. Following her lead single "ME!" Swift continues to spread her message of self-love and call out haters—particularly the homophobic ones—in this latest song.

Swift "ended homophobic locals," as one fan put it on Twitter, with one particular lyric: "'Cause shade never made anybody less gay."

Along with the song, Swift shared a lyric video via YouTube which made her sentiments even clearer. With her lyric, "Why are you made?/ When you could be glad?" she spelled "glad" as "GLAAD," referencing the queer media advocacy organization.

Swift sings of homophobic protestors in the second verse: "Sunshine on the street at the parade/ But you would rather be in the dark ages/ Makin' that sign must've taken all night." In the pre-chorus, she adds, "You just need to take several seats and then try to restore the peace/ And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate."

Swift additionally comments on women being pitted against each other—"We see you over there on the internet comparing all the girls who are killin' it"—asserting that "we all got crowns." There's nothing trolls can do to rain on her parade anymore.

One fan pointed out the possible symbolism of the crown lyric. In "Call It What You Want," track 14 on Reputation, she sings "They took the crown but it's alright." Now on "You Need To Calm Down," track 14 of Lover, she sings that there's not just one crown—we all have them.

Some fans are pointing to the double meaning of the track title. If I had a dollar for every time someone said those words to me in a totally condescending way, I'd probably be richer than her! What woman hasn't been told to calm down about an entirely not-calm situation or while expressing their distaste?

During Swift's live stream for the release of the song, she also announced a fashion collaboration with designer Stella McCartney, a peek of which we got during the singer's WangoTango performance.

Lover is set for August 23 release.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

"I was like, 'Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what?'"

The day I meet Jim Jarmusch, the sun hangs so bright and hot and yellow and solid in the sky that it's hard to believe that it will actually set at night. It's one of those New York June days that suggests we might be in permanent daylight; it's got a completely different feeling than the crepuscular atmosphere of Jarmusch's latest film, The Dead Don't Die, which takes place in a small town in what feels like one long twilight, maybe the last one.

But for today, Jarmusch and I are sitting at a table in a sun-filled restaurant, though we're in the shade. We're in a part of the city that used to be very punk rock, and is now very NYU, yet being there with Jarmusch, who looks so at home, like he's holding court in the booth (it helps that Larry Fessenden, an old friend of Jarmusch's and a writer/director/producer/actor, who appears in The Dead Don't Die, happens by the table to say hi), makes the area feel a little punk rock again, even with all the sun.

The Dead Don't Die is a very punk rock zombie movie, by which I mean: It's not very scary, but it is very cool, and even when it's sneering, it's a little bit tender. Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny as a trio of small-town cops who fight back against a nascent zombie apocalypse caused by fracking, the film is cast with a who's who of Jarmusch regulars, like Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, and Fessenden, to name a few; but it also features younger stars like Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, and Luka Sabbat—and there's a real earworm of a theme song, courtesy of Sturgill Simpson.

Below, I speak with Jarmusch about the movie, being a dilettante, and why he only reads his negative reviews—which is definitely one of the most punk rock things I've ever heard.

Photo by Gareth Cattermole/ Getty Images

This was filmed on a pretty condensed shooting schedule, right?
It was a very rough schedule. A very difficult one, actually.

We only had seven weeks to shoot, and we had to shoot Adam Driver out in three weeks because he had to be delivered to Star Wars, and the financing of the film was incredibly grueling and took a long time, so we were pushed so far that we had about one month of prep, and then three weeks with Adam. And then all these different actors coming in and out; I don't know how Carter and Josh, the two producers, organized it all. And then we'd shoot 15-hour days, and halfway through, I had walking pneumonia; I had two coats; it was 95 out; I was shaking. You know, just weird stuff like that. But it's all okay because we had such great people—our crew—everybody. And then, the visual effects were very taxing and complicated.

How did that all work together? Because there's more than one decapitated head.
Yeah, it's a mixture. First of all, we mixed prosthetics with makeup with masks for some of the zombie stuff, but all of those effects with the decapitations, we had to just imagine. So we had to choreograph everything and then only imagine kind of what it would be like, which was, for me, very abstract because I'm not very versed in visual effects. You know, you had to really kind of trust your instincts, because Adam Driver's chopping away with a machete with no blade.

It could've been a machete, it could've been a lightsaber, who knows? So, to what degree is this a sequel of Paterson with Adam Driver's character's last name being Peterson?
Well, I just do these things to amuse myself while writing, you know? Bill Murray in Broken Flowers was named Don Johnson, and in this, I gave him the name Cliff Robertson. Tilda Swinton's character is Zelda Winston. Rosie Perez is named Posie Juarez. You know, I'm just kind of amusing myself.

And Peterson, Paterson. While we were filming Paterson I was always teasing Adam that the next one, we would make was gonna be a sequel about a psychopathic murderous bus driver named Peterson. Tag line: "Get the fuck off my bus!" Or "Next Stop Hell!" You know, stuff like that. It's just to make them... I love trying to make Adam Driver laugh, because he has a very odd and wonderful sense of humor, but it's on the dry side, so I'm always joking around with him between work to try and see what makes him laugh.

But yeah, there's no sequel of any kind, and I don't think that way, and I don't plan, and I don't see my films from the past ever again. I just look toward the next thing.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features

What was the original concept for this? When did you start coalescing all of these different elements into knowing that you wanted it to be your next film?
Some years ago after Only Lovers Left Alive, Tilda kept teasing me, calling me, saying, "When do we do the zombies? When are we doing the zombies?" And in between I made Paterson and Gimme Danger, but then after those I started writing the zombie one, and my original conception was: I wanna make a film that's really funny and silly like Coffee and Cigarettes, where people talk about whatever nonsense I want them to, and I want to get actors I love, you know? So I thought, okay, if I make a zombie film, I can have a structure where different groups are cordoned off against the zombies, and the zombie attacks will be intermittent and not very long, so I'll have long lags where they're just stuck there, like in the house of The Night of the Living Dead, where they can talk about any kind of nonsense. So that was my first idea, and then when I started writing it, for some reason, I wanted to have a small town, Centerville, and I just followed my intuition, and it became this, I don't really know why beyond that.

What is it about small towns that make them the perfect setting for existential terror?
They're insular. They're kind of… everyone kind of knows each other. It's controllable by the characters. It's believable that everyone kind of know each other. I don't know. I'm not very good at analyzing that. And also, this is not a horror film because horror films use devices that are necessary to frighten people, like suspense, and then you get scared. We have no interest whatsoever in that. This is more of a metaphorical zombie film, but I would not call it a horror movie. It's a comedy with zombies with a kind of sad ending. Beyond that, I don't know what it is.

And horror nerds may not like it if they're expecting creepy, creepy, scary thing! They're not gonna get it. They're not gonna get that delivered to them.

What's interesting about it is seeing who fights back against this existential dread. Or, like, Chloë Sevigny's character, Mindy, doesn't fight, she is on her own separate trip, avoiding the end till she embraces it.
It's a character film. It's not even a plot film, really, although critics say that about all my films. But Chloë… it's a complicated thing, because when I first called Chloë, I told her... I wrote her a letter, and then she said, "Yeah, yeah I'd like to do this." And I said, obviously, this is not a feminist character. She's reactive. She's our sort of "Scream Queen." She screams like six times. But Chloë is the master of reaction, and I love watching her react.

She definitely feels like a stand-in for what a normal person would feel during these absurdist experiences, which is nice to have. It's not necessarily that you need a relatable character in a movie like this, but...
Yeah, but she's an empathetic human that's in a job with some authority, but in a small town where that means taking care of whatever, you know, as a police officer, pretty minimal [stuff]. There's not a lot of rampant crime or anything going on… or anything at all, really.

Credit : Frederick Elmes / Focus Features

A lot of people are going to be projecting tons of different meanings onto this film, like with all your films. To what level do you participate in that or pay attention to that? Or, once you're done making a film, is it just out there, and you just let people project onto it whatever they will?
I've always felt that anyone's interpretation of a film that I write and direct is probably more valid than my own. Because it's a funny thing, the beauty of films is going into a world—or a book or whatever—but going into a world that you don't know, and you are entering a world, and it takes you. And if you wrote it, and you were there filming it, and you're in the editing room every day for six months, the mix, and all that... I can never possibly see it. I like hearing what friends or people I know... I like Q and As after screenings because they have no agenda except their interest. I like that a lot, and I value that. I don't really like to read a lot of reviews unless they're really negative. I love the negative ones.

You do?
Yeah, because they must be very far from me in their perception of the world, and that is interesting to me. But I try not to read a lot...

I think you're probably the first person who I've ever spoken to who says they like to read the negative reviews.
I really like them. The worst one I ever got in my life, I laminated and used to carry in my wallet. It was a brief thing from a right-wing French [paper], maybe Le Figaro or something, of a film called Dead Man that we made, and they said—this is the English translation—"The French intelligence celebrates Jarmusch in the way death and blind parents would celebrate their retarded child. Jarmusch is 33 years old, the same age as Christ when he was crucified. We can only hope the same for his film career." I was like, Whoa! That is harsh! I'm keeping that one!

It gets personal.
But that was vicious. I was like, Did I sleep with this critic's girlfriend, or what? What happened? It was really... the knife was sharpened, you know.

That speaks to a very specific kind of agenda for sure.
A friend of mine Amos Poe, he's sort of a mentor of mine, a punk filmmaker, whatever, and when we were young when he made, in the late-'70s, one of his films—The Foreigner or Unmade Beds—the New York Times called it "the cinematic equivalent of kindergarten scribbling," and he put that on his posters and put "New York Times" and we were like punks, we were like, "Yes! Amos! That's great!"

I mean, it genuinely is a pretty great pull quote, and I think also a little bit oblivious to the charms of a kindergartener's scribbles and what the value is in that anyway.
Yeah, it was kind of accurate in a positive way, and they intended it as very negative.

In this film, there are so many actors who are veteran actors, but there are also a lot of younger actors. What do you like about the combination of that dynamic?
I just like the variety of sort of world perceptions—indicated in a very minor way when Bill Murray's character says, "I've known Hermit Bob since we were in junior high," and Adam's character says, "Oh, wow! That must've been like 50 years ago!" And Bill says, "Yeah. It was." But just the kind of difference of perception of age I find as I get older really interesting. And I'm very interested in young people, especially teenagers, because I think they form our sense of style, of music, of so many things, and yet they're kind of pushed around and treated badly and constantly told, "You don't know how the world really works! You're just a teenager!" But they gave us poetry. They gave us Mary Shelley and Rimbaud and chess masters, and all the great music comes a lot from teenagers. So I tried to keep a pulse, that's why the three teenagers, I would not let them turn into zombies. There are only four people [who don't get turned by zombies]: those three that are delinquents, and the Tom Waits character, who's already removed himself from the social order long before.

When the zombies become zombies, they all have one inciting thing that they're still pursuing in the real world. Do you have one thing that you think you would pursue if you were a zombie?
You know, it's hard because I'm a self-proclaimed dilettante. I'm interested in so many things, I don't know if I would be breaking into a bookstore, or if I would be in the alley outside of a movie theater, or if I would be trying to get into a guitar shop. I'm not sure. I have a lot of interests.

I mean there's a way in which it's a really tender portrayal of the human impulse to just seek out these things that they love.
It's not totally a critique; it's their vestigial memory of some things that they were drawn toward, whether it was power tools or oxycontin.

The Dead Don't Die is in theaters now.

Credit: Frederick Elmes/ Focus Features