How do you prepare for the overnight recognition that comes with being the face of a Netflix show? I posed this question to Antonia Gentry, the young Atlanta native who plays Ginny Miller in Netflix’s unexpectedly discourse-provoking show Ginny and Georgia, mere days before the first season dropped. She looked unsure, laughing and running a hand over her perfectly sculpted eyebrows as if she’d started to sweat. She didn’t know how to answer the question. She wanted to, but how could she?
“I feel like I’m on this rollercoaster, and we’re just constantly going on the incline, and I’m waiting for that drop,” she told me. “That’s exactly how I’m feeling right now. I don’t know.” We both know the success stories as well as the horror stories. Outer Banks, and how it made teen icons out of actors like Chase Stokes, Madelyn Cline, and Madison Bailey. Bridgerton, and how it positioned Regé-Jean Page as a candidate for the next James Bond. A Netflix show could change everything in an actor’s life.
But Gentry was smart enough, even in the days leading up to the controversy that would suddenly mire her in harassment, to know that recognition isn’t always a good thing. Even before Ginny and Georgia aired, she expressed some concern: “I just really want to be able to show—especially to young girls who will be watching the show—that it’s literally like, I’m just a person. I don’t know what this is going to be like. It’s kind of scary, but I just, I hope that people can take the show for what it is and know that I am not Ginny. I’m Antonia. I’m Toni. We are different people.”
This exact issue came to a head a few days after Ginny and Georgia climbed the Netflix top 10 list. The show, which follows mother-daughter duo Georgia (Brianne Howey) and Virginia (Gentry) as they escape Georgia’s past crimes for a quiet life in quaint suburban Wellsbury, isn’t perfect. It’s trying to be many things to many different people, and arguably it tries so hard to be generalist that it never sticks any landing. But Gentry is one of the show’s most earnest redeeming qualities, an actress who empathizes with her character while understanding her flaws run deep. This seemed obvious to most viewers. At least, until Taylor Swift got involved.
In one episode of Ginny and Georgia, there’s a throwaway line in which Ginny, in a fit of adolescent anger, accuses Georgia of “going through men faster than Taylor Swift.” Swift’s notoriously passionate fan base circulated the clip far and wide, prompting the singer herself to tweet in response.
The fallout was quick. So-called Swifties descended upon Gentry’s social media accounts, spamming her with harassment and racist comments. A few days later, after enduring hours of such treatment, Gentry posted a statement that didn’t address the controversy directly, but instead discussed the character of Ginny herself.
“As someone who grew up feeling voiceless and unimportant, and who did not see herself reflected on screen, Ginny Miller was finally a reprieve,” she wrote. “…I fell in love with playing as Ginny Miller because she is a character who dares to be flawed, a character who tries her hardest to melt into the world around her seamlessly, but is consistently told no.”
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It goes without saying that harassing a young biracial woman who portrays a character on Netflix for what that character on Netflix says is ridiculous—to a mind-boggling degree. As Ashley Reese wrote in an op-ed for Jezebel, “Ginny Miller Isn’t Real.” But Antonia Gentry is. And Antonia—or Toni, as she likes to be called—is the one who has to, for some inexplicable reason, answer for the actions of a character she didn’t even write into existence.
Talking with Gentry, she is thoughtful, sharp, full of light and humor. When I interviewed her, she didn’t know yet what was coming. But even if the idea of overnight attention made her uncomfortable, I could tell she was ready for the eyes—ready for the fame—because she knows exactly who she is. Below, we discuss who Ginny Miller is, and why it matters in the greater context of storytelling about young women.
The relationship between Ginny and Georgia isn’t exactly typical mother-daughter fodder. You’re keeping secrets from each other—in some cases, startlingly dark secrets—but, in other scenes, you’re like breezy best friends. How did you and Brianne Howey, who plays Georgia, nail down that dynamic?
Brianne and I are only eight years apart in real life. Ginny and Georgia are 15 years apart. So it was very easy for me to feel at home and develop a true friendship. [The hardest part was] the complexity of their relationship. When does Georgia decide to be a mom versus the friend? And when does Ginny act more mature than her mom, or when does she embody that of an angsty 15-year-old who doesn’t really know what’s going on? In between these moments of arguing with each other or fighting, they’d call cut and we’d be like, “Are you okay? I love you. I’m not actually mad.”
This show is trying for so many different genres at once: teen drama, crime drama, small-town soap, political drama, romantic comedy. What was it like working on a humorous drama with all these insidious undercurrents?
We shot in block shooting, so nothing was chronological. We’d be filming a scene from episode 5 one minute, and then the end of episode 6 the next. So filming it actually didn’t feel very real. It was hard to see and imagine how it was all going to be edited and put together.
I had a hard time describing the tone of the show to my friends and my family because from my point of view, it was always just sad. Ginny’s going through so much. And I was always like, “I don’t know. I know the show is funny, but I’m not a part of that storyline too often.”
So when I got to see it all together, when I watched it on Netflix, I was shocked. I was blown away. It’s so fun. The show is fun, but, yes, there is that darker current, which is what I was mostly filming for my part. When you’re filming it, you don’t always know if you pulled something off. You don’t always know how it’s going to fit.
Even as Ginny starts to find her place within this majority-white community, she recognizes, of course, how much she’s still set apart. She’s racially profiled when shoplifting with her friends; the hairdresser at the school sleepover doesn’t know how to do her hair. The girls of MANG regularly say racist things. How did you give those microaggressions the appropriate emphasis?
There are lines in the show that I shared with [series creator Sarah Lampert] that were actually said to me in real life. And in the show, sometimes it happens and Ginny doesn’t automatically address it. She’ll think about it later. That’s just how life is. Someone says something that you, in the moment, don’t know how to respond to. Later on you realize how it affected you and how you wish you could have, at the time, said something.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I understood some of the things my friends may have said to me—not really knowing they were actually hurting me. A lot of time it’s a retroactive understanding of and processing of these kinds of microaggressions or tokenizing. And I think the show includes it that way [on purpose].
There are obvious parallels between you and Ginny, but what was harder for you to connect with?
At that age, I was very introverted. I was into books. I was awkward. I didn’t really know how to relate to my peers; it seemed they all had the right script, and I didn’t, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. So with Ginny, those moments of isolation and confusion I really related to. But there are differences, like her mother is white. My mother is Black. So I actually learned from playing Ginny another experience of being biracial.
My mom knew how to do my hair. She sheltered me a lot—or tried to keep me from walking out the door wearing my skin on my sleeve. She tried to instill in me, “You are not what other people prescribe you to be. You are who you are, and you need to accept yourself.” And that’s easy to say, but when you’re a kid and you’re trying to fit in, that’s not very easy to apply.
Ginny’s mom, Georgia, she tries her hardest, but there are fundamental things she isn’t able to relate to with her daughter. She makes mistakes, and they don’t always communicate clearly with each other. And so those were some differences I found between Ginny and I and how Ginny reacts with her mom and how she reacts to wanting to fit in.
Ginny also develops this lovely friendship with Maxine, who’s all confidence and drama until she’s rendered vulnerable by her experiences with her sexuality. What was it like working with Sara Waisglass to give Ginny her first real friend?
I love Sara. I am obsessed with her. We were obsessed with each other. We text each other all the time. We Zoom all the time. I cannot wait until the day I can just hug her again. She’s the funniest person I’ve met, I would say.
This was my first big thing. And I knew she had a bit more experience than I did in terms of film and being on sets. So I was really, really hoping that she would like me. And the first day that we filmed together, there was this…moment. It’s so nerdy, but we both grew up playing The Sims. There was this cheat code in The Sims 2 that everyone knew to type in to unlock all of this stuff. We were at lunch, and I was talking about The Sims, and she was like, “Oh my God, you played Sims?” I’m like, “Yeah, I played Sims.” We both, at the same time, said the cheat code. We just paused and looked at each other. And we’re like, “Oh, are you my new best friend?”
Ginny’s own journey with sex is complicated. She loses her virginity. She’s juggling competing relationships. She goes and gets a Plan B pill. She’s keeping secrets. Was it at all a struggle to demonstrate her sexual coming-of-age in a way that felt sensitive but not overstretched?
There’s such a risk of oversexualizing teenagers [in film]. In particular, young girls who are trying to explore what they like and don’t like, what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not, consent, things like that—it’s oftentimes treated as a taboo.
I think the show took care of [sex] in a way that made it realistic, not over-glamorizing it. It’s not this polished Hollywood thing; it’s awkward. You run into walls. You don’t really know what you’re doing at that time. And it’s very confusing.
Then we see Ginny and Georgia, and Georgia telling her, “Oh, you’ll come to me when you lose your virginity.” That’s something that’s obviously unconventional as a part of their unconventional relationship. I hope that when audiences watch the show, especially parents and their kids, that opens up the floor for really important conversations. I don’t think young girls should feel ashamed of exploring their sexuality, of being comfortable in talking about it.
What are your hopes for a second season, if you get one?
I don’t know what will be in store if we do get renewed or not. But I would say, I want to see Ginny get down and dirty. I want to see her turn into Georgia a little bit. I want to see her really dig in and show that mean streak I know she has. That would be really fun to explore. But, I’m just taking things a day at a time right now.
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