Access to safe and legal abortion has never come with the relative security of other kinds of reproductive healthcare services. Whereas banning the procedure hasn’t proven successful, lawmakers have found loopholes to create other barriers. TRAP laws that nitpick about the width of hallways or distance from one medical facility to another have come to pass in states like Texas and Oklahoma.
When the proverbial hands of abortion providers can’t be tied any tighter, these same lawmakers target the patients in need of abortion services. Mandatory ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting periods suggest that patients seeking abortion aren’t clear about the weight of their decision and need state intervention to handle it responsibly.
Shatterbox film director Anu Valia recognizes these undue burdens for exactly what they are. In her new short film Lucia, Before and After, Valia documents the brief (but still unnecessarily long) process of one woman, Lucia, as she waits the mandatory 24 hours before she can receive her abortion in Texas. By focusing on that relatively tiny span of time, abortion is framed as just one of the many decisions and circumstances someone might have to navigate in the grand scheme of their daily lives. The film infuses the “abortion narrative” with the humanity that it deserves.
Lucia, Before and After will be premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. I was lucky enough to chat with Valia about why this film was so important to her.
I have to start by saying that this movie was beautifully shot. I’m a sucker for soft pastels and it was just so visually pleasing.
"Thank you! Lots of mood boards. Whenever I make movies lots of thought goes into it — and not just on my end. On the art director's end, on the costume designer's end, and the cinematographer's end — color palettes and creating this world that is visually consistent. We start talking sometimes months before about what colors are appropriate for which scenes, what lighting is appropriate for which scene. When it’s only daytime outside, it needs to be these colors. When it’s daytime inside, it can only be these colors. We just set a lot of really strict rules. We talk about these rules for literally months. Everyone shares images. We make sure that there’s no red in the frame. That was actually one of our rules [for this film]. That there was no red in any shot. We set these things out because making a movie is very hard, so if everyone is on the same page from the beginning you can make changes on the fly. It’s not so strict every second on set because it’s too hard to do that. But we can make these choices early and hopefully stick to these rules throughout the film."
What inspired you to make this film?
"I’ve been writing a movie called We Strangers for a couple years now. It’s about a woman who is trying to get an abortion in Indiana. But that movie has a lot more characters, it’s longer, and has a longer timeframe. Abortion and women’s reproductive rights is an issue that is so important to me. It’s also important that women aren’t reduced to issues. There’s a full human being behind someone who wants to get an abortion. And none of these women are the same. They’re all very, very different. When laws are created that restrict women’s reproductive rights, how does that affect the person? The person behind the laws. This isn’t just 'a woman needs to get an abortion.' A woman is a life. She makes good decisions and bad decisions. I like making movies that aren’t 'issue movies.' Instead of thinking about the broader messages behind it, hopefully you’re more interested in the person."
What do you want people to take away from this film?
"This is a short film that deals very much with small moments that happen while a woman is waiting to get an abortion. What I really want to drive home is that everyone experiences [abortion] differently. Every single woman who I talked to that got an abortion had [a] different story. I can’t dictate some woman’s entire abortion experience. That’s why I want this to be [in the] present. That’s why I called this Lucia, Before and After. This is literally what happens right before. This is literally what happens right after. And her emotions are something we can extrapolate later. I don’t know how this is going to affect her 10 months from now, 10 years from now. What I can say is these are, maybe, moments that she’ll remember. Maybe she’ll remember seeing tap dancers. It’s supposed to feel like little tiny vignettes that hopefully all amass to this experience. Because that’s what life is. It’s a bunch of tiny memories."
What final thought do you want to leave with viewers?
"It would make me really happy if people felt really inside Lucia... this one woman’s experience. If they were just with her on the ride and felt for her while she went through this one day of her life [it would make me happy]. And they’re just in it with her, as opposed to judging her or feeling like there’s a message. I just want them to experience this with her."
Just 7% of 2016's top films were directed by women. Refinery29 wants to change this by giving 12 female directors a chance to claim their power. Our message to Hollywood? You can't win without women. Watch new films every month on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox and Comcast Watchable.
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