As we reflect on mothers this weekend — stereotypically with ostentatious bouquets and boozy brunches — it’s vital to remember that motherhood is political. Who can become a mother, and who has to become a mother? Film can be a powerful expression of the importance of reproductive choice, and the consequences when people are denied bodily autonomy. Here are some great titles on that subject.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, director Cristian Mungiu’s breakout feature tells the story of two college students in late 1980s Romania who are in search of an illegal abortion. A stressful, heartbreaking two hours sees pregnant Gabita and her roommate Otilia evading draconian laws and confronting the violent cultural misogyny those laws represented. There’s nothing redeeming about their dehumanizing quest, and in the end, both women are irrevocably changed.
On Criterion Channel and other platforms.
After Tiller (2013)
In the US, where abortion is federally legal but restricted on a state by state basis, violence against abortion doctors is a real threat, increasing alongside white nationalist violence. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s documentary charts the repercussions this violence has had on reproductive rights. In the aftermath of the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller, there were only four doctors left in the entire country who would provide third-term abortions. The film is empathetic and sensitive, with a deep understanding that a necessary procedure can also be traumatic, and that providing help is courageous.
On Amazon Prime, Kanopy, OVID, and other platforms.
Citizen Ruth (1996)
After two very heavy options, here are a few laughs courtesy of this bitter comedy. Laura Dern plays Ruth, a young Nebraskan ne’er-do-well who discovers she’s pregnant for the fifth time and facing felony charges for endangering a fetus because of her drug use. Ruth’s body literally becomes a battleground for disingenuous activists, with an inconceivable (to her) amount of money dangling over her choice. The film acutely portrays the cynical public abortion “debate” of the 1990s as a rhetorical football that ignored lived experience.
On Showtime and other platforms.