TIMELY & POWERFUL FILM EXPOSED HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES OF WOMEN IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
SUPPORTED AND EXPANDED A MOVEMENT TOWARDS REPARATIONS – DOZENS OF SCREENINGS AND ADVOCACY ACTIONS WERE HELD AROUND CALIFORNIA AND ACROSS THE NATION
FILM FEATURES THE OSCAR SHORTLISTED ORIGINAL SONG ‘SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE’ FROM GRAMMY WINNING AND OSCAR NOMINATED SINGER-SONGWRITER MARY J. BLIGE WHO WROTE AND PERFORMED THE SONG
SACRAMENTO, CA – The award-winning filmmakers behind the PBS documentary Belly of the Beast uncovered nearly 1,400 questionable sterilizations in California prisons during labor or unrelated abdominal surgeries between 1997-2013. The film, released widely in 2020, helped garner nearly 20,000 signatures on a petition to Governor Newsom demanding reparations for California forced sterilization survivors.
“I’m thrilled Belly of the Beast contributed to this historic moment and we will continue to shine a light on our nation’s dark past until these heinous practices are eradicated,” says director/producer Erika Cohn.
“To this day, many survivors who were sterilized while in prison still don’t know that their reproductive capacities were stolen from them. With the launch of reparations, we will finally receive justice that we have fought so long for and the healing process can truly begin. It’s time,” said Kelli Dillon, founder of Back to the Basics, sterilization survivor, and film participant.
Between 1909 and 1979, California sterilized at least 20,000 people under State law — accounting for one third of eugenics sterilizations nationwide. People with disabilities, Latinas, women, and poor people were disproportionately targeted for sterilization. Although the State repealed its eugenics law in 1979, coerced and forced sterilizations continued in State prisons into the 2010’s.
“Lack of government accountability for its eugenic past made possible the contemporary sterilization abuse in California prisons. Reparations for survivors is a giant step toward accountability and ensuring we end eugenic State violence against families of color.” Flm participant and attorney Cynthia Chandler, who has led efforts for reparations for imprisoned survivors.
Governor Newson’s anticipated budget includes funding for the reparations program. The budget request and accompanying bill, AB1007, was authored by California Assembly member Wendy Carrillo. Cynthia, Kelli and the Belly of the Beast team are a part of a larger cross-movement coalition for reparations including the AB1007 sponsors, Back to the Basics, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund.
About the film:
When an unlikely duo discovers a pattern of illegal sterilizations in women’s prisons, they wage a near impossible battle against the Department of Corrections. Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, the documentary feature BELLY OF THE BEAST exposes modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.
Directed by Emmy and Peabody award-winning filmmaker Erika Cohn (The Judge and In Football We Trust), BELLY OF THE BEAST features the original song ‘See What You’ve Done’ written and performed by Mary J. Blige, the nine-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominated singer-songwriter. The song was shortlisted for the Academy Awards for Best Original Song.
BELLY OF THE BEAST had its world premiere as the Opening Night Film at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival in the San Francisco Bay Area, Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival in Washington, DC, and Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. BELLY OF THE BEAST had its theatrical release starting Friday, October 16, 2020 at theaters across the U.S. It had its national television and streaming debut on the award-winning PBS television series Independent Lens on Monday, November 23.
The PBS re-release started today on PBS.org making the film available to the public to stream through July 31. A wider on demand release is planned for later this year.
The pastoral farmlands surrounding the Central California Women’s Facility, the world’s largest women’s prison, help conceal the reproductive and human rights violations transpiring inside its walls. A courageous woman who was involuntarily sterilized at the facility, teams up with a radical lawyer to stop these violations. They spearhead investigations that uncover a series of statewide crimes, primarily targeting women of color, from inadequate access to healthcare to sexual assault to illegal sterilization. Together, with a team of tenacious heroines, both in and out of prison, they take to the courtroom to fight for reparations. But no one believes them.
As additional damning evidence is uncovered by the Center for Investigative Reporting, a media frenzy and series of hearings provide hope for some semblance of justice. Yet, doctors and prison officials contend that the procedures were in each person’s best interest and of an overall social benefit. Invoking the weight of the historic stain and legacy of eugenics, BELLY OF THE BEAST presents a decade long, infuriating contemporary legal drama.