Zelda Barnz Takes Her Writing to the Big Screen

The young writer talks about how identity inspires work.

Coming-of-age stories are old—like Homer’s-The-Odyssey old. But whether you call it a coming-of-age, a bildungsroman, or (ugh) YA, such stories will never stop being told and retold. That is, as long as people like Zelda Barnz exist. At 18, Barnz has written her first show, Generation, for HBO Max, under the tutelage of fellow scribe Lena Dunham, a co-producer on the show.

Despite her early station in life, Barnz has been telling stories for years, having taken a vow in the second grade. “I was always really bad at everything [except writing]. So I had a total identity crisis when I was eight years old, and just accepted [that I would] be a writer,” she says. The vocation had its drawbacks: “I didn’t really learn how to interact with people until I was 12 or 13; I would have much preferred to stay home [and read],” says Barnz. Luckily her parents, Daniel and Ben Barnz, were seasoned storytellers themselves. When it came to constructing the drama of Generation (later to be played by young stars like Chase Sui Wonders and Justice Smith), Daniel, whose directing credits include the Jen Aniston-led drama Cake, was there for punch-ups. “He helped me develop characters and plot, [and made] it feel more like a TV show than a novel,” Barnz says.

With her proximity to Hollywood’s creative class, Barnz took matters into her own hands upon detecting a lack of authenticity in today’s popular young-adult narratives—especially vis-à-vis queer representation. “From the very beginning, the [main] reason I wanted to create [a show] was to represent queerness in my generation…I feel like a lot of high-school shows right now tend to have a token gay character,” she says.“But it turns out roughly 40 percent of my generation identifies as LGBTQ+.”

Barnz’s vision of queer inclusivity isn’t just progressive in its percentages, but also in its commitment to portraying joy.“I think one thing that high-school shows right now are struggling with is the joy-factor of being a teenager,” she says.“I think there can be a lot of joy, even in the difficulty of being ages 13 to 19.”

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