Abortion film club: 3 films to watch on abortion
Following the success of our Abortion Book Club and now that the lockdown measures around us are again intensifying, here are our film picks to check out during the pandemic!
The first part of our film club comes from Erin who coordinates the Women on Web sibling sites. Since the pandemic has posed many new challenges for everyone, taking time to unwind is especially important. Erin usually has several work projects on the go so to quiet her mind she's been knitting, cooking, and doing yoga in her kitchen. She also takes comfort in watching old films and TV shows while always on the look out for new ones.
Check out a few she's discovered (and rediscovered) on abortion. Let us know your recommendations on other films and TV series' you might have for her!
Saint Frances tells the story of 34-year-old Bridget who terminates a pregnancy while simultaneously nannying a young girl named Frances. Bridget’s financially precarious yet independent circumstance, coupled with her determination to keep a new relationship at arm’s length, lead her to opt for an abortion. The undertone of Saint Frances depicts Bridget’s complex reckoning with the decision to terminate her pregnancy as not for reasons of guilt or regret, but for its insignificance, a reason she’s made to feel she’s not entitled to. As her relationship with Frances blossoms, Bridget realizes Frances’ two mothers – both affluent and devout Catholics – are struggling with parenthood, as one experiences extreme postpartum depression after the birth of Frances’ baby brother. Saint Frances tackles the myriad of judgements constantly bestowed upon women’s reproductive choices; not only for deciding to terminate a pregnancy but also for feelings experienced after one. By framing abortion as a procedure that’s not traumatic or life-altering, Saint Frances offers a fresh and thoughtful take on a common yet rarely shared experience of abortion.
The character Bridget is played by the film’s writer and creator, Kelly O’Sullivan, who was quoted saying she felt she had been “miseducated” about abortion growing up and wanted “… to write a story where it’s a non-traumatic depiction of abortion.” O’Sullivan described wanting to impart that there’s no wrong way to deal with the aftermath of an abortion, as is often portrayed.
Set in Harlem, New York City, Premature is a first love, coming-of-age narrative that follows 17-year-old Ayanna, a high school graduate in her last summer months before heading off to university, and Isaiah, an aspiring music producer who’s new to the neighbourhood. The pair struggles with a rocky start to their relationship as both are equally infatuated with the other but clearly have little experience navigating a committed relationship. When Ayanna discovers she’s pregnant, she makes the decision to have an abortion with pills, giving the viewer a tough glimpse into her experience.
Similar to Saint Frances, however, the portrayal of Ayanna’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is not one of shame and remorse. It’s instead an event that is part of her character’s growth; an event that does not define her identity or her story but is merely a part of it. Premature was also written by the film’s portrayer of Ayanna, Zora Howard, and co-written by the film’s director, Rashaad Ernesto Green. The film is another grounding reminder that abortion can often just be a drop in the bucket amid a sea of intricacies within relationships.
An old romance classic, Dirty Dancing is the story of Baby and Johnny, a young, idealistic woman on vacation with her family who falls in love with a struggling dance instructor. Set in early 1960’s United States, the film is most famous for the class-defying romance between the two protagonists.
Yet a less talked about subplot is that of Johnny’s childhood friend and colleague, Penny, who endures a clandestine abortion early on in the film. Penny is forced to accept a charitable contribution from Baby for the expensive procedure with no help or support from her obviously affluent partner. Upon arrival, she discovers the practitioner is, in fact, a fraud, leaving her severely injured, in pain, and in need of immediate medical care. Dirty Dancing is arguably a progressive depiction of abortion given the time period (the film takes place a decade before Roe V. Wade overturned criminalized abortion in the States). At times, it’s been referred to as “the gold standard” in its portrayal of abortion.
While it’s imparted Penny is aware of the encircling judgement and shame from greater society, she herself is treated with care by those around her, setting the bar for how abortion should be approached. The film also sheds light (albeit soft light) on how dangerous and inaccessible abortion was and still is for areas that place extreme restrictions on abortion. Penny’s decision to terminate her pregnancy despite the cost and potential risk is symbolic of many people’s experience when access to safe abortion is limited and restricted.
The film’s writer and co-producer, Eleanor Bergstein, stated in an interview celebrating Dirty Dancing’s 30th anniversary that there was severe push back from studios to take the abortion subplot out of the film. Luckily, Bergstein purposefully wrote Penny’s abortion in as an integral part of the storyline in order to keep it from being cut. Bergstein continued saying it was important for her to leave the abortion in after seeing how unaware young girls were of a time before Roe V. Wade; a thought made even worse by her fear that it would one day be overturned. Since the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the present political climate in the United States, it seems Bergstein’s fears are not unfounded.