This past weekend marked an astounding moment for culture in the Okanagan. The Landmark Cinema devoted “MEGA” screens to the movie, UnPlanned. Hopefully the anticipated crowd that showed up for this were mostly curious and in awe of how such a dangerous piece of right wing propaganda made its way north of the border.
Filmmakers, Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, ‘auteurs’ of the treacly virtue-signalling godsploitation variety don’t make it much past the bible belt audience, however they are seizing on this antichoice moment in the US, one that has harshly rolled back women’s rights (abortion is now restricted in many states, and in some cases even pregnancies that are the result of incest or rape cannot be legally terminated), to up the production values and splash out with this slick vehicle. I mean Vice President Mike Pence, a man who so demonizes us women and our feminine wiles – the way we play otherwise honourable men to think with their little head over their big one – that he cannot let himself be in room with another woman without his wife present, today feels so comfortable and emboldened in his radical views of sexuality and reproduction to tweet his support for stories like this. He’s just so refreshed to see films that praise the “sanctity of life” (never mind that he and his fellow religious conservatives stan separating living babies from their parents, who struggled with everything they have to give their children a safe life, and putting them in cages – some to become really sick and die).
But I digress. Is UnPlanned a documentary, or a docudrama based in fact and good faith curiosity? Ummmm neither, it’s a dramatization which blasts right past peer reviewed medical data to introduce us to the highly selective story of Planned Parenthood abortion provider Abby, who, originally woke, turns against safe access to abortion and our right to choose one if we need it, after witnessing a maybe fake, but definitely extremely over-exaggerated, difficult abortion. Don’t let the fact that there’s a .05% chance an abortion will go wrong get in the way when your tagline is “What She Saw Changed Her Life”.
Well there’s another message too, and it is just as deceitful and manipulative. UnPlanned focuses on clean cut, anti-abortion activists, all pastels and prayer hands in an attempt to cast the movement in a rosier light and distance them from the anti-choice movement’s darker image of doctor-murders, irate, uncouth – and male dominated. A much better look, the filmmakers clearly think, but harassment is still harassment however prissy, pretty and pious you dress it. At least the creepy culty Westboro meanies let you know they think you’re shit.
Unplanned ups the production values and audience appeal by lifting the best of horror tropes – suburban young white teenage girls and blood. Far from the reality that most women who abort are much older and poorer. This isn’t a white trash thing, a hood thing, a poor person thing, a suburban wine-mom thing, the filmmakers insist, preferring to sell a fake reality, one more sympathetic to their audience. Save the young white girls from the corrupt clutches of Planned Parenthood.
I’m not sure the Canadian audience here will buy into another of the movie’s central lies – that abortion providers are in it for the money – given how our long serving socialized medical system is nothing like the profit-driven system south of the border. In fact, we have the feminist trailblazer Dr. Morgantaler, a Canadian Charter of Rights icon, who also, in his final years took a province to court on his own dime for refusing to keep abortions accessible to women. Not exactly in it for the money. Even Planned Parenthood is just a non-profit whose abortion services are reported to amount to only 3.4% of its mostly free setual and reproductive health treatments. But what’s a little alternative facts when you’re spinning salvation and quick-fix consciences.
What do you expect from the cultural conservatives who are pro-life only until a baby is alive in the world, and against big government except over women’s bodies. This movie is what happens when serious topics are given over to crude and overly emotional appeals rather than considering, at a minimum, scientific facts (like ffs find me a legit medical practitioner who’ll state that a fetus can feel pain at 13 weeks!!) and individual rights. And in general ignores the larger social context of female bodies being somehow a little more um, publicly owned, shall we say. And certainly gives no reflection upon the specificity of a potential mothers’ emotional or material security. We can talk about abortion and the value of human life, but this ain’t it.
Wait tho there’s more – and that’s exactly what they want you to think too. This isn’t just a matinee morality tale, a Sunday sermon of reflection, nope this is a terrifying call to action.
First it preps you on a hierarchy of value for human life. When they bring up Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, who was shot in the head and murdered in his church, it’s only to show how the previously Planned Parenthood protagonist was freaked out for her safety in 2009, and also that they were aghast that it happened “in church” like it would be fine at the grocery store, or his house. UnPlanned does not disavow any of the murders and violence against abortion doctors and clinics.
Second, it normalizes violence by joking about punching abortion doctors in the face. Third, at the end of the film, it offers a call to action to pregnant women (and their male partners, of course): “Your life matters. If you’re a woman or a man who wants to talk with someone about your abortion, your pregnancy, or taking action to support life … text HOPE to 73075.” The weird conditional there kinda weighing whose lives matter. And finally, who can forget when the movie’s anti-abortion activists rejoice how women drove away when they saw protesters praying outside the clinic. “It works!” she says telegraphing to the audience. The gauntlet is dropped: approach the clinics. Aggressive af.
So here we are, Landmark Cinemas chose to join this campaign to roll back the rights of women. Hey it’s freedom of speech, the marketplace of ideas is apparently alive and well in BC. Some will have been told by their pastor, or far right politicians to go out and see this conservative manifesto that wants the state to control women’s bodies – just don’t call yourself a feminist, a libertarian, or rail against the power of big government. And please, if you did go to this shitshow, ask yourself if there is any legitimate evidence to support their main claims, that abortion is dangerous, or even for-profit? This is the textbook definition of propaganda: information that is designed to mislead or persuade, and in this case, even incite something dangerous.