At least part of the responsibility for the rollback on reproductive choice rests with an unlikely culprit: liberal Hollywood.
By Anthony Bernier, July 2023
Isn’t it nice to blame it all on Trump? Trump’s reactionary political base. Trump absconding with the Supreme Court. Trump repealing “Roe” – a women’s right to abortion. While true, of course, these things do not tell the whole story. At least part of the responsibility for the rollback on reproductive choice rests with an unlikely culprit: “liberal Hollywood.”
When looking back at the films preceding the Trump era, to the period giving rise to the Obama Administration, more complexity emerges. In popular films of that period, while baby boomers enjoyed choice, popular films denied it to younger women.
Intergenerational hypocrisy is not unique to boomer political ethics, of course, especially when it comes to public policy. What we did to advance our reproductive freedom was world historical.
Gee. Weren’t we great?!
You kids just have to suck it up. Too bad. So sad.
Among the period’s most celebrated films about youth were Juno (2007) and Twilight (2008). In the first, Juno puts the baby up for adoption; the second film’s master narrative reclines on un-reflexive sexual restraint: the male lead, vampire Edward, doesn’t even have a bed in his bedroom!
When you see one or two treatments avoiding reproductive choice, you take it in on one level. But when you see it over and over again without exception it’s time to start connecting the dots.
In addition to Juno’s adoption option and Twilight’s tortured “Just Say No” abstinence regime, a long list piled up well before Trump.
Natalie Portman in Where the Heart Is (2000) portrays a 17-year-old in Oklahoma struggling to rebuild her life after being abandoned by the boyfriend. She insists on raising her new baby alone.
In another, Drew Barrymore portrays a boozy high school girl in Riding in Cars with Boys (2001). Barrymore’s character arc gets pregnant (of, course, what else do boozy high school chicks do?), has the baby, and raises it to become the “adult” in the family.
In Waitress (2007) Keri Russell plays a young woman disconnecting from yet another unreliable (and in this case dangerous man) who parlays taking her baby to term as a metaphor for becoming “empowered.”
As with Twilight and Juno, these films all depict young women’s culture, community, and endurance. Under different circumstances this might be a welcome counterpoint to otherwise predictable anti-youth screeds found in adult non-fiction, mass media, public policy, and popular culture.
But when viewed against a larger and consistent backdrop these films become a de facto Hollywood anti-abortion campaign.
I’m not a fan of abortion. Who is? But the very idea of “choice,” as a right and a viable option, in all these representations, “option” means only carrying the baby to term or abstinence.
Correction. There is one exception.
In Coach Carter (2005) Samuel L. Jackson plays a self-righteous high school basketball coach teaching an inner-city school how to turn boys into men. The girlfriend of team’s African American star terminates her pregnancy to preserve his collegiate aspirations.
Well, so long as the kids are Black and it’s for the right reasons…
The coming on of the “Obama Moment” promised a new narrative about young motherhood – perhaps even young parenthood. We hoped that a new narrative might extend all the choices to which citizens are entitled. While boomers did enjoy that moment, younger women were left adrift.
How convenient to blame it all on Trump. But anti-choice vampires were there first.