Is Hollywood aborting Roe v. Wade?

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As Harry Potter successfully convinces Hogwarts cohorts that mentioning Lord Voldemort’s name won’t kill them, Hollywood itself seems to be under the influence of it’s own nemesis– a real one– that, as Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday points out is becoming a specter that cannot be named.

In her insightful essay, Hornaday points out that this season of sequels– Potter and others– also includes two well received films about unwanted pregnancies– “Waitress” and “Knocked Up”– in which that which shall remain nameless– namely abortion– isn’t considered as an alternative. Not even as an unwanted one.

Has Hollywood recently aborted Roe vs. Wade? Or, has Tinsel Town’s record of representation of abortion really changed that much during the past decade or so?

In the July 2000 issue of Bright Lights Film Journal, Eve Kushner (author of “Experiencing Abortion: A Weaving of Women’s Words”) comments that in Hollywood films produced during the previous decade, “Unexpected conceptions occur onscreen with surprising frequency, but filmmakers routinely play it safe, avoiding substantial discussions of a pregnancy’s pros and cons. They keep abortion out of plots and even out of dialogue, ensuring that movies end with a heartwarming birth.” Kushner cites “Father of the Bride” (1989, “Parenthood” (1989), “Look Who’s Talking” (1989), “Father of the Bride”(1995), “Nine Months” (1995) and “The Opposite Sex” (1998) to illustrate Hollywood’s varied takes on coping with unwanted pregnancies. None of them considers abortion– despite the then effective stats showing that 82 percent of Americans thought abortion should stay legal, and 43 percent of American women would end at least one pregnancy by age 45.

What’s the reason?

Presumably, Hollywood’s past and current pro-life palette comes from marketing concerns– that movie marketers, who’re this year pushing what are touted to be family values in films ranging from the saccharine “No Reservations” to the smash-and-bash “Transformers,” back off that which must not be named because they think it’s more than the market will bare.

They’re featuring kick ass broads, apparently without concern that the characters won’t garner high acceptability ratings and be liked, if not idolized, by moviegoers. But, let a lady consider terminating an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy that will chain her and her unborn child to a man who treats her appallingly, making a mess of her life unto death, and she, markets assume, will be deemed by audiences to be an unholy pariah.

However, as Hornaday’s research shows, the majority of people– albeit a slight majority (and one assumes they include moviegoers in their numbers)– favors freedom of choice, even though (and this is baffling) another small majority declares itself to consider abortion immoral.

So, is there a clear majority on this issue? Is that majority silent? Is that majority silencing Hollywood into playing it market safe to the extent that discussion of freedom of choice no longer occurs on movie screens?

Even the indie “Stephanie Daley,” Hilary Brougher’s drama about a teenager who’s unwanted pregnancy ended in the suspicious death of her newborn, never acknowledged abortion as a viable option for the girl– who was, admittedly, naive. But THAT naive?

In contrast, abortion is still being considered in docs. Jennifer Fox’s “Flying: Confessions of a Free Women,” a six-segment, six-hour documentary in which the filmmaker circles the globe while balancing two love relationships and seeking insight into her own family values, seems to be the summer’s sole cinematic expression dealing with the possibility and consequences of abortion. Six segments means, of course, that Fox provides audiences with sequels to spare– but each is a probing and honest examination of the way in which Fox and her peers handle the issues women face when trying to balance pregnancy and personal development, relationship and career.

Releasing in October after fifteen years in production, Tony Kaye’s (American History X) documentary, “Lake of Fire,” presents an unbiased, difficult and provocative examination of abortion.

On the fiction feature front, Europe seems somewhat– perhaps just barely– more abortion amenable than Hollywood. French officials have decided to lift their ban on screening the Romanian-made abortion drama, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” in French secondary schools, supported by government funding, according to The Guardian.

What are your thoughts? Are Hollywood marketers correctly reading the mood of the majority vis a vis that which they’re not naming? Is that sort of self-imposed censorship a healthy development? Is Hollywood really as liberal as it is supposed by many to be? What films have influenced your attitude towards abortion, and how? Does bias interfere with a film’s being as interesting and touching as it might be? Are there other reasons why Hollywood is obliterating the subject of abortion from the screen? Please comment here.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).