Best Girl Grip

#93: Jemma Desai, Writer, Researcher & Curator

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Episode notes

Hello! Welcome to Season Five of Best Girl Grip. 


This week my guest is Jemma Desai. I first encountered Jemma at an event hosted by The Quarter Club, which was co-founded by former podcast guest Jo Duncombe, where Jemma was reading a letter she had written to her daughter Leena which evolved into a TinyLetter for a while. And then I kept encountering Jemma’s name and work in various iterations and I was always struck by how thoughtful and rigorous and I guess, unconventional it was. And then in 2020 I read Jemma’s research paper 'This Work Isn’t For Us', which considers how arts institutions and cultural policy - particularly initiatives towards inclusion - have treated, or mistreated the Black and Brown people they seek to include. And I’ve never read anything like it. It's a significant piece of work in so many ways and I knew then that I wanted to speak to Jemma about it, and so I’m really glad that she agreed to come on the podcast and talk about all manner of things, including that. 


In terms of a professional work biography, Jemma is is a writer, researcher and curator based in London, currently completing a PhD on practices of freedom in the arts. Most recently she was Head of Programming at the Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival and she has also held positions at the BFI London Film Festival, British Council and Independent Cinema Office. She is also the founder of a curatorial initiative called I Am Dora and is a fellow of the Clore Leadership programme. 


We talk about a myriad of things including her role as programmer and her ambivalence around that label, community, colonialism, the need to redefine or abolish the idea of linear progression, what leadership means to her, and why she hopes it will be dismantled, the issues at the heart of campaigns like #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite, how to structurally enable care, out of office emails, embracing possibility and joy and much much more. 


I see this podcast episode as being, hopefully, a bit of an antidote to feeling like you don’t belong in the film industry, or feeling like your career doesn’t make sense or isn’t one thing. I think it’s a really expansive and generous conversation and as you’ll hear in the intro it was actually our second recording, so I’m really grateful to Jemma for sitting down me with me on two occasions and having what I see as being a bit of an eye-opening or mind-expanding discussion.



Jemma's Work

Things Jemma talks about in the podcast

Jemma's book & film recommendations