Frankie Shaw, a Brookline native and the creator and star of the Showtime TV series “SMILF,” thinks Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn should reconsider his opinions of her show about South Boston.
In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday, Shaw defended “SMILF,” which is set and filmed in Southie, after Flynn criticized the show last week as “a degrading, crude, and inaccurate portrayal” of the neighborhood. The city councilor said he received complaints from constituents in South Boston and called for the removal of local advertisements for the acclaimed show, which depicts the hardships of a single mother and was recently renewed for a second season.
Shaw, whose mother grew up in the neighborhood, wrote Saturday that the show is based on her personal experiences and invited Flynn — who has said he hasn’t seen the show — to watch an episode, particularly one that touches on the hardships faced by some working-class women.
“I’m not claiming to represent every single woman in South Boston,” she wrote. “How could I? I’m writing about the people I know and the issues I care about.”
Shaw said she understood why Flynn dislikes the title, which she said was an attempt to reclaim a vulgar acronym. But the 31-year-old actress noted that, unlike other pop culture portrayals of South Boston, her show does not portray the neighborhood as “extremely violent, corrupt and notoriously racist.” She also questioned why Flynn didn’t extend the same creative latitude to her show as had been given to previous male-centric films set in the area.
“I have a feeling that the judgement comes from underlying gender-bias more than anything else,” she wrote. “And I get it, these deep-seated unconscious judgements are centuries old and very hard to recognize. But just like Ben Affleck and Seth MacFarlane, who came into town to make their very male art of chasing women, robbing banks, and getting high with teddy bears, I’d like the same consideration to tell the stories that are important to me.”
Read Shaw’s full response below:
Dear City Councilor @edforBoston,
I’m writing to address your recent complaints about SMILF (the TV show I created for SHOWTIME).
I’d like to invite you to sit down and watch a few episodes of the show as it is my understanding you have yet to watch it. If you don’t have much free time, start with episode eight, where the main character, Bridgette, confronts her father who sexually abused her when she was a child. Or you could check out episode six, which deals with the realities of working class women who are responsible for the caregiving of children and the aging, and raises the question: Does our society have room for mothers to dream? If you don’t have Showtime, look on any of my social media pages for a code for a free 30-day trial or message me back and I’ll hook you up.
I understand your job puts you under an immense amount of pressure. Since I’ll be moving to one of your neighborhoods for five months pretty soon, I wanted to tell you a little bit about me and my show. I was raised by a single mother who grew up in Southie. My Grandma Mary raised six kids by herself on East Fourth street. Growing up, I spent all my free time there hanging out with my aunts and cousin. I don’t know my father, so family to me was all women, all Southie, all the time.
I love Southie. We shot the pilot in the very house my mom grew up in. My uncle Peter, who has schizophrenia and is beloved by everyone in the neighborhood, got to make the most money he’d ever made in his life for his small speaking role as a customer in Joseph’s bakery. All that being said, I’m not claiming to represent every single woman in South Boston. How could I? I’m writing about the people I know and the issues I care about.
I’m not sure why our main character, Bridgette, elicits such a strong reaction. Is it her messiness? In most popular movies and television, South Boston is generally portrayed as extremely violent, corrupt and notoriously racist. We at SMILF are none of these things. SMILF’s Southie is about a woman striving for a better life for her kid. I have a feeling that the judgement comes from underlying gender-bias more than anything else. And I get it, these deep-seated unconscious judgements are centuries old and very hard to recognize. But just like Ben Affleck and Seth MacFarlane, who came into town to make their very male art of chasing women, robbing banks, and getting high with teddy bears, I’d like the same consideration to tell the stories that are important to me.
I’ll admit, I get why you don’t like the title. To me, it was an attempt to reclaim a terrible term, a term that men use to categorize women. I talk about it at length in the Forbes article linked below. And maybe I haven’t succeeded, but if you watch the show, you would understand that by no means am I calling the main character, or any women in South Boston “smilfs.” What’s clear is that I’m telling a personal story about a woman who loves her kid and is also burdened by her circumstances of being a single mom, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and living in a neighborhood she and her own mom can no longer afford. And if you don’t know what to tell the kids about the title’s meaning, you can say what my cousin Jess tells her kids: “It’s a word that is degrading to women and Frankie is trying to use it in a feminist way.” Her kids stare blankly and then walk away. Or you could tell them what I tell my son SMILF stands for: “Single Mom In Love Forever.”
You called my show disgusting. We all have our own opinions of what disgusts us. So many things keep me up at night too, one of them being that my own family can’t afford to live in Southie anymore another is that all the beautiful architecture is being torn down to be turned into condos when instead it should be preserved and turned into landmarks. And don’t even get me started on all the deep-seated systemic injustices faced by SO MANY PEOPLE in our country. Maybe together we can figure out how to really help the people in BOSTON. For now, I’ll keep bringing hundreds of jobs into the city and representing the people the best way I know how, with a whole lot of heart and a healthy dose of sarcasm.
Hope to see you around the neighborhood,