Friday, June 6, 2014

Obvious Child: The Pro-Choice Movie You've Been Waiting For

[Content note: Mild spoilers for the film Obvious Child, discussions of shaming abortion]

[Jenny Slate in the promo pic for Obvious Child]
So I saw Obvious Child. Written and Directed by Gillian Robespierre, it has been heralded as "the summer's most important movie" from some feminists. I'm not sure if I'd go that far (because I can't remember what all is coming out this summer) but from a pro-choice vantage did not disappoint.

I was interested in the film because many, like Jill Filipovic in the Cosmo article above, called it a non-stigmatizing movie about abortion. I was really, really thankful that it lived up to that expectation. Way too often, movies shame abortion in outright ways (the person who got the abortion dies as some kind of punishment or comeuppance for the "misdeed") and slightly more subtle ways (they change their mind because of "fingernails," yes I'm looking at you, Juno. Or when they do get one they regret it forever and ever and ever.)

And in case this needs to be said...because I am pro-choice, I understand that some people would never get an abortion when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and that's A-OK. The problem with our cultural narrative, as currently created by media, is that stories that deal with abortion disproportionately depict really negative outcomes, like death. The reality is that many people unapologetically choose abortion when faced with an unplanned pregnancy and it goes well. That is valid and real and should be a part of our cultural narrative too.

Before I dig in on some of the specific really-awesome-things-I-loved...I do want to note that the film is imperfect, from an intersectionality perspective. It is a fairly white, upper class story. The main character played by Jenny Slate, Donna, clearly has a familial safety net and wealth to fall back on and there are not POC main characters. Additionally, Donna, a stand up comic, opens the film with some GREAT vagina related humor, but falls into casual cissexism by equating that with universal experiences of women, etc.

But in every way that Obvious Child could have disappointed me from a pro-choice perspective, it held up. I'm so used to the standard story lines regarding abortion that this all felt so different. Here's a few examples:

1) Donna know she wants to have an abortion. She's thought about it and makes the decision easily. That doesn't mean that it's not a serious choice for her or that she is flippant about the whole's just that she knows what she wants.

  • Other media: make it a Really Big Deal and associate a lot of guilt and sadness with the choice. 

2) Donna knows other women who have had abortions and they support her.

  • Other media: make it seem like a very isolated, terrifying, secretive thing. The reality is that 1 in 3 women will seek abortion services. 

3) The women she knows who had abortions don't regret it.

  • Other media: depict women who are deeply sorrowful about their choice or at least wistful, wondering about what their kid would be like now, etc. Donna's friend, instead, has sadness for her past self, about being a teen who went through something tough, but is thankful that she did it. 
4) Donna makes the choice on her own and she sticks with it. 
  • Other media: depict people pressuring the woman one way or the other. And then there's the iconic "change your mind and freak out while at the doctor's office, running out crying" scene. (I love Blue Valentine as a relationship film, but that element of it always REALLY bothered me.)
5) Donna's sexual partner, Max, respects her choice.
  • Other media: depict men who are hurt, outraged, want to have a say in it, or are not even there at all. I won't spoil everything so suffice it to say that Max eventually learning about Donna's pregnancy involves some awkwardness, but at the end of it, he stands by her choices and supports her through it. 
6) Donna isn't ashamed.
  • Other media: depict shame. Lots of it. Again--this isn't to say that Donna doesn't understated the seriousness of the choice, just that she knows what is right for her and she's not afraid to talk about it. 

Other great aspects are...

  • It's genuinely funny.  
  • The female relationships, both between Donna and her roommate/best friend and Donna and her mom...they're very real, heartwarming, natural, and important. 
  • It, of course, passes the Bechdel test. 

It's almost like woman written and directed films end up accurately depicting female lives...HMMM COULD I BE ON TO SOMETHING? Needless to say...I recommend Obvious Child. Go see it when you can.

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