The Latch

‘Long Story Short’s’ Zahra Newman on Why Strong Women in Film Should Not Be an “Anomaly”

Australian actor Zahra Newman knows what it’s like to come through hardship. In fact, up until the age of 14 when she and her family migrated to Australia, the now 33-year-old lived in Jamaica.

“It was a huge cultural shock, but also an incredible opportunity,” Newman said of the move in an interview with The Latch—

“It was definitely challenging and there was a lot of hard learning along the way but If I hadn’t come to Australia, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that Australia has gifted me.”

One of those opportunities is Newman’s latest role in writer/director/actor, Josh Lawson’s film Long Story Short, which follows the story of serial procrastinator Teddy (Rafe Spall) who thinks he has all the time in the world.

After an odd encounter with a stranger (Noni Hazlehurst), he wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that he’s jumped forward a year in his life to his first anniversary. 

Newman, in her first foray into film, plays his wife Leanne who is now heavily pregnant, with a full year of marriage behind them that Teddy doesn’t remember living. He then becomes trapped in a cycle of time jumps, as he is transported another year ahead every few minutes and faces a race against time as his life crumbles around him. 

Leanne also faces some challenges, however, remains a pillar of strength throughout.

“I think, yes, it’s important to play a strong female lead, but I think it’s also important to be in a romantic comedy and to not politicise it every step of the way,” she said. 

“I think it’s really important to normalise it and go here’s a relationship with two people, they’re equal partners. Yes, she’s a strong, independent woman, but we’re not hammering people over the head. We’re not politicising it because this should be the normality.

“This is not an anomaly, it is a normality for women in contemporary society to have autonomy over their lives and to want autonomy over their lives and to act that way.”

The Wentworth actor also highlighted the importance of representation on-screen and pointed out that the diversity of the cast was just a snapshot of the “amalgamation of many cultures and ethnicities”.

Alongside Newman and Spall is comedian Ronny Cheng, who brings some very funny and quick one-liners to his role as Teddy’s best friend, Sam.

“It’s a mish-mash,” she said of Australia. “Being able to tackle that perceived notion of a monolith and monoculture is really important and to ensure that representation is honoured in that way. But I think, one of the great things about the film is that it is so multiracial, multi-ethnic and multicultural, but it is not the focus of the film. There’s no explanation about it and nobody talks about it.”

“While it is wonderful that we do things like that, and include people and have inclusion, we also need to again, not make it an anomaly, not making it an interesting part of the story.”

The film itself is the perfect message for a post-2020 world with the notion that we will want to live a full, rich life today, and not tomorrow.

“I hope that audiences walk away, motivated and inspired, feeling invigorated to grasp life by the horns and to live for today,” Newman said. 

“You never know what you’re missing out on by trying to pursue other things that you think might be important might not actually be the things that make you the happiest.”

In need of a girls’ night? Get the girls together for a special Galentine’s Day screening this Feb 13 of Long Story Short at HOYTS, and add an exclusive beauty parcel and a free glass of sparkling wine to complete the ultimate girls’ night*. Book your tickets now. *T&Cs apply. 

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