Can a Movie Save Women’s Reproductive Rights? Sundance Filmmakers Say ‘Yes.’

Sundance movies like The Janes present a powerful call to action supporting a woman’s right to an abortion.

The powerful documentary ‘The Janes’ unites the stories of the women who needed illegal abortions with the heroic female activists who provided them.

It’s the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting a pregnant women’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without government restriction. Instead of planning for 50th-anniversary celebrations of women’s reproductive rights, activists for choice are protesting Texas’ six-week abortion plan and 26 states with anti-abortion laws in place.

This summer, the Court will rule on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an unconstitutional 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. The conservative Court’s supermajority will likely strike down Roe v. Wade.

What can supporters of a woman’s right to abortion do? Sundance 2022 filmmakers say movies like Call Jane, The Janes, Happening, and Aftershock are influential calls to action for organizing supporters and implementing change. A hit movie is a powerful megaphone.

Elizabeth Banks headlines ‘Call Jane,’ an entertaining drama about a ‘60s Chicago outfit providing safe but illegal abortions

“I love working on historical things that have relevance in the world today,” says actress Elizabeth Banks, star of Call Jane, an entertaining drama about The Jane Collective, a ‘60s Chicago outfit providing safe abortions. Speaking during a Sundance Festival Q&A, Banks joins Call Jane director Phyllis Nagy and costars Sigourney Weaver, Wunmi Mosaku, and Grace Edwards to talk about the film’s timely pro-women and pro-choice messages. “This movie honors the artists who came before us,” Banks adds. “We are standing on their shoulders. Without these are women, I would not have the freedoms I’ve had my entire life.”

The documentary ‘Aftershock’ focuses on the disproportionate number of Black women dying in childbirth. Photo courtesy of Sundance.org.

In filmmaker Audrey Diwan’s French period drama Happening, screening in the Sundance Festival’s Spotlight section, a young university student named Anne struggles to find the medical treatment to end her unwanted pregnancy in 1963 France. Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, Happening opens in U.S. cinemas on May 6 from IFC Films.

The documentary Aftershock looks at women’s reproductive rights, focusing on the disproportionate number of Black women dying in childbirth. Aftershock directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee tackle the U.S. maternal mortality crises in the black community by focusing on the family members rallying for change in healthcare after experiencing the unnecessary deaths of loved ones.

Premiering in the U.S. Documentary Competition section at Sundance 2022, The Janes is arguably the most potent movie supporting a woman’s right to an abortion.

Filmmakers Tia Lessin (Citizen Koch) and Emma Pildes (Jane Fonda in Five Acts) use best-in-class, by-the-book, documentary moviemaking to ask the critical question facing Sundance audiences. What will life be like for women if conservative Supreme Court justices overturn Roe v. Wade?

We are filmmakers,” Pildes says, speaking recently on the Democracy Now! News program. “That’s the arrow we have in our quiver. We could bring this story of organizing, bravery, and taking care of sisters and brothers and remind people that when things are feeling dire and out of control and our country is devaluing womens’ lives, there are things that you can do.”

Is it fair to expect movies like Call Jane, Happening, Aftershock, and The Janes to drive the fight for women’s rights around reproductive freedom and equality? Heather Booth, the co-founder of The Jane Collective, surprises the Call Jane director and cast joining the post-premiere Zoom Q&A to call the film’s spirit true to the cause.

Can a movie save women’s reproductive rights? The powerful message igniting The Janes shows what life was like before Roe v. Wade and forecasts what life could be like without Roe v. Wade. It’s a message that transforms moviegoers into activists, organizes these activists, and inspires them to change the world. That’s the megaphone of movies.

Coming Soon: The Janes streams via HBO and HBO Max in 2022. Distributor Roadside Attractions plans to release Call Jane in U.S. cinemas this year. Happening opens in U.S. cinemas on May 6 from IFC Films. Aftershock is the winner of a Sundance 2022 Special Jury Award for Impact for Change.

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