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Month: March 2017

“Abortion: Stories Women Tell”: The Last Word In A Debate We Shouldn’t Even Be Having

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CW: Intimate Partner Violence

“I was born a woman. That comes with certain risks,” opines Ami, a single mother of two from Missouri, as she waits for her medical abortion. She, like so many of the women featured in HBO’s Abortion: Stories Women Tell, has driven across the Illinois state line from her home in Missouri, where Republican lawmakers have made obtaining an abortion all but impossible. With a single clinic left within its borders and a seventy-two hour waiting period before an appointment can be scheduled, people in Missouri facing unintended pregnancies rely on places like the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, where the bulk of the documentary’s action takes place.

Though it’s located near St. Louis, Hope Clinic might as well be a world away for some of the patients who drive for hours for abortion care. And it is its own little world, a welcoming utopia for pregnant people like Ami, whose story is one of the main narrative threads woven through an intense ninety minutes of deeply personal, sometimes painful testimony. Producer and director Tracy Droz Tragos uses Ami’s story to introduce us to Hope Clinic and the women who run it: Chi-chi, the self-described “feisty” security officer who listens day in and day out to the ranting of protestors; Dr. Erin, the OB/GYN who performs abortions at the clinic and who is expecting her first child; Barb, a salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing nurse whose practical views of the world make a better argument for abortion than any politician could. They work with women of all ages, from different backgrounds, all of whom need abortions for different reasons.

Financial concerns are overwhelmingly cited as the impetus to abort. Ami herself works seventy to ninety hours a week just to make ends meet for her small family, while another woman explains that a having a fifth child on top of the financial burden of having two kids in college already would be impossible to afford. Some simply state that they’re not ready to have a baby, while another tearfully confesses, “My son’s father…he was gonna beat the baby out of me, anyways.” One couple turns to Hope Clinic with their pastor’s blessing after learning that their wanted baby couldn’t survive outside of the womb. A woman in a similar situation describes Missouri’s mandatory seventy-two hour waiting period as “heartbreaking.”

The title might suggest that all the women profiled will share stories about abortion, but this is at heart a pro-choice documentary, and all the choices are explored. From a seventeen-year-old who’s looking forward to the birth of her daughter despite the judgment of people in her neighborhood to a former drug addict who chose to give her baby up for adoption, Abortion doesn’t posit that termination is the “easy” way; it shows the viewer that no matter what the circumstance, there is no ideal solution to the problem of an unintended pregnancy. It also reveals how simplistic the thinking of the anti-abortion movement is with regards to adoption and parenthood without drawing attention or lending credence to those arguments. Instead, Tragos gives us a quiet moment with the couple who gave up their baby, illustrating the impact of their decision rather than explaining it to us.

Though the bulk of the film focuses on the women visiting and working at Hope Clinic, Tragos gives the anti-abortion crusaders their say, following a handful of them throughout the film without demonizing them. Sometimes, they demonize themselves, shouting “Be a man and don’t kill your baby!” at a crying couple as they enter the clinic or bringing their apple-cheeked children to sing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” on the sidewalk outside. It’s hard to stomach anti-abortion crusader Susan Jaramillo as she talks candidly about the three abortions she had so that she could finish college and focus on her career (which now includes book deals and television appearances) when contrasted with Te’Aundra, a young mother who lost a basketball scholarship to Kentucky State due to an unintended pregnancy. In her small apartment, Te’Aundra rocks her baby and confesses that she regrets not having an abortion, and the viewer can’t help but remember Jaramillo’s sleek highlights and smiling face from her hardcover jacket as she endeavors to save young women from “automatic” shame and regret.

More frustrating are professional protestors like Anne, who saw her name in the center of the world “Planned” on a Planned Parenthood sign and interpreted it as a call from God, or the men who stand outside Hope Clinic every day, grinning as they hold up pictures of fetuses or engage in performative preaching on the sidewalks. They seem to delight in tormenting the patients and escorts as they walk in and out of the clinic, and enjoy hamming it up for the camera. Editors Christopher Roldan, Monique Zavistovski, and Dan Duran deserve a nod here; it’s often these precise, incidental moments more than direct interviews with the protestors that ram home how little concern or sensitivity the anti-abortion side has for pregnant people.

If I were to cite one complaint about the movie, it would be the lack of inclusivity in the language and overall concept of the film. Women aren’t the only people getting abortions, yet it’s still considered a “women’s issue” largely due to our heteronormative and cisnormative cultural perception. While it’s possible that no transgender men or nonbinary people agreed to be filmed for the documentary, the title itself is exclusionary; that none of the ninety-minute run time could have been sacrificed to even acknowledge the existence of these vulnerable people is disheartening and disappointing, and marrs an otherwise flawless take on reproductive justice.

This isn’t HBO’s first take on the subject of abortion. In 1996, their movie If These Walls Could Talk shocked cable audiences with haunting images of violence against doctors and the human cost of illegal abortion. Though that was twenty years ago, when Dr. Erin states firmly, “People will die,” it’s difficult not to be reminded of Demi Moore’s character bleeding to death on her kitchen floor. When a protestor stalks an escort to her car in Abortion, the grisly denouement of Walls‘s third act comes uncomfortably to mind. But while Walls was undeniably moving, the power of Abortion lies in its unadorned fact; during one segment, a fresh-faced young woman named Reagan admits that though she was shown graphic anti-abortion materials as a child, she’d never met anyone who’d had an abortion until she joined Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion organization. “I don’t have a personal experience with abortion,” she explains as she drives cheerfully to a college campus to recruit new members. It’s documentaries like this that aim to correct that disconnect, and that’s where Abortion truly excels. No one who watches this film could claim to have no personal experience by the time the credits roll. Abortion does too thorough a job making it personal while delivering a compelling film that’s impossible to walk away from unchanged.

Abortion: Stories Women Tell premieres Monday, April 3, at 8pm ET/PT on HBO.

The poster for "Abortion: Stories Women Tell" features a white background printed with light gray quotes about abortion over shadowy figures of women in various poses, hairstyles, and outfits. The title and credits are written in a white space across the middle.

We Need To Talk About Cis Men As Abortion Allies

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When I read about Iowa’s dangerous and restrictive “life at conception” bill back in February, I couldn’t help but share my fury with my equally liberal husband. “Under this law,” I said, “a woman who has a miscarriage could be charged with a homicide.” He was angry, as anyone with a conscience should be. But it was the way he was angry that drove sharply home exactly how cis men misunderstand the panic women, transgender men, and non-binary/gender fluid AFAB people feel when these laws advance.

“Well, it’s [the conservative politician’s] wives who’ll be going to jail. If they want to send them to prison…” he responded, as though the problem would sort itself. Of course, these men couldn’t enact a law that would harm the woman they loved, and once it did affect those women, the situation would somehow…

It was the ellipses, that dying, dismissive pause that spun me into a sputtering rage, not just at the lawmakers seeking to control pregnancy, but at my husband and all cis men who think they’re helping. Because I’d heard that ellipses before, in statements so similar to what my husband had just said. That ellipses revealed the privilege with which cis male allies can view “personhood” laws; it’s all hypothetical. It’s bound to fail, eventually, once cis men understand that the ramifications can affect them. It doesn’t matter that someone like Purvi Patel, who was tried and sentenced under a feticide law, must face criminal charges, media scrutiny, public shaming, and incarceration before legal precedent can be set to protect pregnant people in the future. Lives must be destroyed in the process of exposing the faults with these archaic laws, and the person at the center of the maelstrom will never be a cis man.

How can the assumption that everything will right itself once a cis man is inconvenienced ever be considered a progressive or helpful stance? As I tried to explain to my husband why laws like this are a serious problem when they’re proposed and not just after a pregnant person is led to the sacrificial altar, I found my mind whirling with memories of all the times I’d heard exactly this line from a cis man claiming to be a pro-choice ally. “When it affects their daughters…” “When it affects their wives…” or the more insidious, “When it affects their mistresses.” Two of those arguments suggest that it’s okay for the wife, the daughter of a pro-life man to be destroyed, but the third implies that it’s definitely okay if the person in question is a woman of loose morals. In all of these statements, pro-choice cis men reduce pregnant people to property and assume that dynamic will settle, rather than perpetuate, the problem.

But it does perpetuate the problem. There is a healthy amount of “what about the father’s rights!” arguments presented by pro-lifers, wrestling the concerns and desires of cis men directly into the center of the issue. When pro-choice men do the same, the discourse is taken completely out of the hands of the very people it actually affects. The conversation is no longer about the bodily autonomy of a pregnant person, but about the right of cis men to procure or prohibit abortion for another person.

This also relies on reducing reproductive rights to a “women’s issue”, a narrow label that excludes pregnant people who aren’t women. While the mainstream feminist focus on abortion as a women’s rights issue carries the bulk of the blame for that (sometimes purposeful) exclusion, I have to wonder whose property a pregnant transgender man must become before cis men will include him in their stance.

Cis men cannot and never will grasp the feeling of utter helplessness and violation a person feels at discovering they are carrying an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, it is not for them to sit back and watch as those of us who can become pregnant shoulder the burden of legal and societal consequences. It’s simply not enough to spout the same tired lines about male politicians being hypocrites and ministers secretly paying for their good Christian daughters’ abortions. Those scenarios center cis men in a conversation that is not, should not, and will never be about them or their needs.

“I don’t care about some politician regretting something because of his wife or daughter,” I sputtered at my husband that night. “I care about the people this will actually harm.” But I don’t know if I got through to him. How can anyone convince a cis man that his view is not superior to that of someone who’s capable of becoming pregnant when that ability itself has defined the unimportance of those people for centuries? No matter how good his intentions, can a cis man truly buck the societal programming that tells him he has critical wisdom to impart on the topic?

I’ll leave it at what I ended up telling my husband that night: if a cis man can’t form views on anti-abortion laws without centering himself in the narrative, he simply cannot be considered an abortion rights ally.

Beauty and The Beast is a terrible movie. I love it.

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The movie poster for the 2017 version of Disney's Beauty and The Beast, which features the main characters at the top and the ensemble assembled around a smaller picture of Belle and The Beast dancing.

Where to start with the magnificent mess that is the Bill Condon remake of Disney’s classic Beauty and The Beast? It’s horrible. It’s wonderful. It should never have been made, but it was and now we all have to live with it. But how? How do we cope with a movie that is somehow the worst and best movie Disney has ever made (including the one where they murdered all those lemmings and excluding Song of the South).

Before we go any further, let’s not do so under false pretenses: minus the nonsensical additions, Beauty and The Beast is a faithful, near shot-by-shot remake of the original. During Belle’s eponymous reprise, she announces that she “wants much more than this provincial life” before running dutifully from the village to the pastoral hills beyond to continue, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.” The sequence is so similar to the animated movie, I found myself thinking, she’d better hustle if she wants to get to the top of that hill in time for the music cue.

Though the actors try valiantly to bring something new to their parts, it’s impossible. Beauty and The Beast is one of those movies that so thoroughly captures its place in popular culture that future generations will instinctually know at birth every slow blink of Belle’s doe eyes and the growl of Robbie Benson’s beastly snarl. There is no way for the viewer to separate themselves from the original, and the constant comparisons between the two find the new version tragically lacking for what has been touted as the most expensive movie musical ever filmed.

So, why did I like it so much?

Beauty and The Beast somehow hit the sweet spot between my childhood nostalgia and my love of shitting all over bad movies. I careened from being dazzled by the stunning visuals to seething over the seemingly endless stream of gay jokes. I reveled in the Lurhman-esque sensory overload of “Be Our Guest” (complete with a Moulin Rouge-tribute finale) while gleefully asserting that Ewan McGregor was no threat to Jerry Orbach’s legacy. When The Beast transformed into Dan Stevens, I thought well, he’s hot, but he still ruined Downton Abbey. It’s the polar opposite of Condon’s Dreamgirls adaptation, in which he took phenomenal source material and created a masterpiece that can be enjoyed parallel to the original. Here, he’s taken phenomenal source material and produced a staggeringly expensive argument for the superiority of the animated film.

Perhaps the best part of the utterly absurd badness of Beauty and The Beast was the fact that, like the enchanted objects populating the Beast’s crumbling castle, it seemed to have some sort of sentient awareness coupled with a complete lack of shame. “Yes, I know I’m a straight-forward retelling of a movie that had far more charm, but I’m here and you’re going to like me.” I couldn’t feel guilty about watching it when it was so unapologetic.

Not that there isn’t plenty to apologize for. If I weren’t so thoroughly indoctrinated to uncritically enjoy everything that Disney slaps in front of my face (except CarsCars can burn for all I care), I would hate the movie far more than I loved it. But it struck a hellish balance; for every big change I despised, there was a smaller change that triumphantly challenged things fans have always wondered about. For example, the matter of the Prince’s age, a hotly debated piece of Disney canon that placed him at twenty-one after the castle dining utensils had spent ten years rusting, as per “Be Our Guest.” Whatever could an eleven-year-old have done to condemn not just himself, but all of his servants, to such a hellish existence? How had it taken an entire village a mere decade to forget the monarchy that lived next door and suddenly vanished overnight?

And yet, some of the changes simply raise more questions. Why, if The Beast had a magical book that could transport him anywhere in the world, did he not use it to escape the mob storming the castle? At the very least, Belle could have used it to reach the village faster when her father was in danger. If the harpsichord emerged from the spell toothless due to loss of keys, why didn’t Chip’s human form manifest with a gory open head wound? And why did anyone on the production staff assume that we were curious about Belle’s mother’s cause of death? Especially when the sequence in which we saw Belle spirited away from Paris to avoid the plague had little to no bearing on the overall plot? And why does The Beast’s insensitivity now damn not just the servants in the castle, but their loved ones in the village, whose minds were violated by the spell’s memory-altering component?

The musical choices are bizarre and inexplicable. The limp “Evermore,” though capably performed by Stevens, might as well have been accompanied by the words “FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION” flashing across the center of the screen. Obviously, a Disney movie musical has to have an entry for the Best Original Song category come awards time, but why cast aside the Broadway version’s “If I Can’t Love Her” for a pale, inferior imitation? The same can be said for the saccharine “How Does A Moment Last Forever”. The syrupy sentiment could have been more capably served with the stage adaptation’s “No Matter What” (and given us a chance to hear Kevin Kline and Emma Watson duet). Beauty and The Beast has never lacked for unreleased tracks and alternate versions. That we didn’t see Luke Evans belting about his perfect thighs in “Me” is nothing short of a tragedy; that Audra McDonald sang fewer bars than Emma Thompson is heresy.

The much vaunted “exclusively gay moment” was a reach-for-your-popcorn-and-you’ll-miss-it flicker. After existing as a walking two-hour gay joke, LeFou is redeemed by an eleventh-hour conversion which occurs only after he becomes the target of Gaston’s treachery. After blithely admitting that he’s changed sides mid-battle to join the winning team, he is rewarded with a male dance partner moments before the credits roll. It was only a split-second, but I vaguely recognized the unnamed man as a character from the mob who, upon finding himself bewigged, be-gowned, and made up beautifully in an attack by McDonald’s Madame Garderobe, doesn’t run but instead grins with delight. For a movie supposedly making strides no other could achieve, Beauty and The Beast spends more time laughing at queerness than with it. Still, I found myself thrilling at the notion of a gay character–a villain’s henchman, no less–getting a romance that didn’t end up with someone dead. That says more about the current state of our creative media than the progressiveness of Beauty and The Beast.

There are some smart choices made in the update. I’ve always rejected the notion that Belle suffered from Stockholm syndrome; if anything, The Beast develops its counterpart, Lima syndrome. But there’s still the desert island issue: sure, Belle falls in love with The Beast, but it’s probably easy to become enamored of someone when they’re the only person around who has a pulse. In an attempt to fix this problem, we see Belle and The Beast bond over their common love of books. In her village, Belle faces derision and destruction of her property for daring to teach a little girl to read, yet the Beast is pleased to learn that Belle is not only literate but well-read. He even grudgingly reads the medieval equivalent of a romance novel after she reforms his thinking on the subject. It’s a wan nod to the very same pop-culture feminism that loves to endlessly dissect the Disney Princess phenomenon, but it does make Belle’s choices clearer. In the animated version, there weren’t many differences between The Beast and the reviled Gaston aside from how the narrative blatantly instructed us to perceive them. Here, the differences are plain. Though The Beast physically imprisons Belle, he wants her mind and her spirit to be free. Gaston doesn’t just want to revoke Belle’s physical autonomy; he wants to keep her from escaping into the world of books, as well. When Belle opines that no one can love if they aren’t free, The Beast lets her go. When Belle refuses Gaston’s advances, he tries to murder her father and have her committed to an asylum. It’s hard to argue that she’s made a poor romantic choice in the only eligible bachelor within fifty miles who doesn’t bemoan her literacy and independence.

At its heart, Beauty and The Beast is what it is. It’s not the pro-gay, rah-rah feminist update to a classic that it was made out to be in the weeks leading up to the premiere, but it is the CGI-and-sequins spectacle we were promised. It’s too ambitious, too lavish, too earnest to feel cheap, but too lazy, too glitzy, and far too obvious to add any value. Yes, it relies solely on nostalgia and hype mistaken for quality, but by the time Celine Dion warbled over the credits (a quarter of a century after she first sang the title theme from the animated film) I just didn’t care. How could I, when I’d just been sent such a gilded and sparkling care package from my childhood?

I resent the fact that Beauty and The Beast expected me to love it; I resent more that I absolutely do.

SAY GOODBYE TO HOLLYWOOD is out!

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Here it is! The elaborate in-joke I wrote for everyone who went on this blogging journey with me. Finally, in all its bitchy glory, Say Goodbye To Hollywood is ready to snark up your Kindle. Or your phone. Or your tablet. Whichever. It’s here, that’s all that matters.

The cover is made to look like a screenplay fastened with paper brackets. There is a large coffee mug ring stain on the bottom right corner. The text reads "SAY GOODBYE TO HOLLYWOOD (a novel) Jenny Trout"

When she’s hired to adapt the blockbuster novel, Beautiful Darkness, for film, screenwriter Jessica Yates sees an opportunity she can’t pass up. The only thing standing between her and a guaranteed hit movie is the author. Lynn Baldwin’s rise from Midwestern housewife to literary superstardom has gone straight to her head, and she’s not willing to see her creation hit the screen without her total approval.

As the entire creative team struggles with the hard-to-please author, Jessica’s personal life spins out of control. When there’s more relationship drama and kinky sex off the page than on, she’s forced to reevaluate what she really wants—before Beautiful Darkness destroys her Hollywood dreams forever.

You can purchase it on Amazon or Smashwords, and the paperback will be available soon! When that happens, I promise it will be the last update you see about it on my blog, because I know some of you must be getting tired of hearing about this book.

True Blood Tuesday S03E11, “Fresh Blood”

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CAUSE BABY NOW WE’VE GOT FRESH BLOOD

YOU KNOW IT USED TO BE TRUE BLOOD

ARE YOU TIRED OF BLOOD PUNS?

THEN YOU SHOULDN’T WATCH TRUE BLOOD HEY!

I just realized that if someone were unfamiliar with Taylor Swift, all my “Bad Blood” jokes would be wasted on them.

Anyway, I’m back from the dead! Here’s the file! Hit play approximately when the HBO sound and logo fade. Good luck and God speed.

SAY GOODBYE TO HOLLYWOOD Bonus Excerpt!

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Say Goodbye To Hollywood releases tomorrow! I’m so excited. I can’t believe it’s finally almost here. But since there’s still another day to wait, here’s another excerpt to tide you over!

The cover is made to look like a screenplay fastened with paper brackets. There is a large coffee mug ring stain on the bottom right corner. The text reads "SAY GOODBYE TO HOLLYWOOD (a novel) Jenny Trout"

Read the excerpt after the jump, and don’t forget, you can pre-order it on Amazon, and buy other digital formats tomorrow at Smashwords! (Paperback to be announced soon).