Films like The Waitress and Knocked Up make unplanned pregnancies seem like a walk in the park. Any stressors or misgivings the female character may have about the pregnancy are easily resolved in two hours with the joyous birth of a child she happily chooses to parent. Unlike Hollywood films, parenting in real life isn’t always a possibility for some women. Some cannot afford a child, don’t want a child now or ever, are too ill to carry a child to term or have been victimized by sexual assault. Sadly, Hollywood fails to show the complexities of women’s lives. A real women is not a persona with a role to play, a one-dimensional character who supports a fictional story. A real woman is a multi-faceted, thinking, caring human being who deserves support from friends and family and from the community as she makes a super tough decision about an unplanned pregnancy.
In the Hollywood film Juno, adoption is the option the young pregnant teenage character single-handedly orchestrates. In the end, Juno, the character, happily relinquishes her child. The adoptive mother beams with joy. However, in real life, adoption does not always have a happy ending, is not easily handled in the course of a few hours. Hollywood’s faux realities and society’s falsehoods about maternal instinct, about a man’s instinct to protect his “woman” and other popular myths, don’t help women. They only serve to infantilize, marginalize and subjugate women. In real life, adoption is an extremely difficult decision, one that is seldom represented accurately in the media or in claims from the pro-life community. In Juno, after the adoption, we see the young teenager go on her merry way in school and with friends. In the real world, adoptees can experience a lifetime of feeling abandoned or resentful. Birth mothers can have a lifetime of regret especially if forced to adopt. Birth fathers can experience feelings of disenfranchisement from the entire process. While adoption is clearly one very loving option, it’s not always the best for mother or child. Real women with unplanned pregnancies need honest support, accurate information and freedom from judgmental detractors as they face a complex, difficult and often agonizingly emotional situation.
Historian Howard Zinn writes in Stories Hollywood Never Tells, that Hollywood glamorizes stories about war and that these films generally lack the complexities that are inherent in situations that lead up to and are a part of a war. They never tell the other side of our nation’s near-total extermination of its native peoples, its imperial conquests of countries like Mexico, and its more recent culpability for massacres such as No Gun Ri and My Lai as well as for torture sites like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. I would add that Hollywood never tells stories about the abortion wars either. So, it should be no surprise when Hollywood rolls out silly films about unexpected pregnancies. Even when the film includes anti abortion activists, as in Juno, their benign presence is in stark contrast to the real-world brutish louts who protest abortion and lurk outside clinics. No, abortion is one of those issues that Hollywood never confronts. While a few independent films and networks like HBO have tackled the abortion issue, mainstream programming avoids it. Abortion scares producers because they fear the risk of alienating advertisers who support their programming. Casting an actress in the role of a woman who chooses to abort risks damaging the actress’ image, risks the show’s brand and risks profit losses. I find it particularly hilarious when anti abortion activists lament that mainstream media (MSM) is left leaning. If that were true (which it is not), abortion would factor in television programming and in films. The media giants (like Disney, NBC Universal, News Corporation, Viacom, Time Warner) dominate the U.S. media landscape. They do not have a personal stake in abortion. They do have a huge stake in corporate profits. Any controversial issue (like abortion, corruption, embezzlement, murder, etc) that might negatively impact profits is either ignored or reframed in such a way to reduce offending their stakeholders and advertisers, primarily, and their audiences, secondarily.
Abortion stories are really missed opportunities for Hollywood because abortion is a reality for millions of women and those who share their lives. Media programmers are ordinary human beings like your neighbor, doctor, dentist or Chamber of Commerce member. Those within the industry, like those in the audience, are intimately familiar with abortion. They had one or paid for their girlfriend’s abortion or paid for and accompanied their daughter to her abortion. But try to find advertisers to support programming that tells real stories about abortion? Fat chance. Too controversial. It’s like Zinn said about war. Hollywood can’t tell the truth about the war against women or the war against abortion because their stories would lack the complexities that are inherent in situations that lead up to and are a part of abortion.
Like the Hollywood war stories that uphold the Right’s hegemony of the American empire and that celebrate war mongering, the Hollywood stories of unplanned pregnancies uphold the sanctimonious ideology of the Right, one that glorifies the fetus and fairy tales about motherhood. It’s a practice that reduces every woman to a womb open
for public comment, that diminishes the highly complex nature of a woman’s life, and that severely thwarts public dialogue about the rights of pregnant women and about reproductive rights including abortion.