By Michael Bruins
Director Dawn Porter combined her experience with law, policy, and film to introduce us to “Trapped”, a documentary aimed at enlightening audiences about the abortion debate through the lens of the service providers. Passionate about women’s health and an end to socioeconomic warfare on the working class, “Trapped” shares the narrative of the long term effects that TRAP Laws have placed on the majority of women’s health clinics around the country. The documentary has currently been making its rounds in the film festival circuit and is currently being distributed in select theaters this month.
CINEMATIQ magazine talks to award-winning filmmaker, Dawn Porter about TRAP Laws, financing her projects, education, politics, and women’s rights..
This interview first appeared in CINEMATIQ magazine Spring 2016 issue. Listen to the full interview below.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: You share the story and narrative that many area afraid to tell, and it’s reflected in some of your work like “Gideon’s Army” and “Spies of Mississippi”, what was the inspiration behind your current project Trapped?
PORTER: I consider myself a pro-choice person, politically active. You mention I’ve done a good deal of work in the south about race and political justice issues, but I had no idea about the crisis in abortion access, and not just in the south but across America. I also discovered that the disproportionate impact of these laws was falling on women of color and I felt that that was not a conversation that was happening in the debate about the abortion access. Once I met Dr. Willie Parker who’s an African American physician whose flying the country literally providing access for women I felt like he was just the perfect vehicle and telling his story and sharing his experiences would show people what’s really happening and who’s being impacted by laws that are closing clinics in America.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: Why do you think there’s been such a drastic increase of regulation within the last few the years?
DAWN PORTER: Well I think it’s no accident that there has been an uptick in laws that are targeted at abortion clinics. The term “Trap” means Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. We definitely saw after President Obama was elected in 2008, there was a very conservative response and reaction by Tea Party activists among others and that activism led to a number of very conservative legislators being elected in states that opposed President Obama’s election. And one of their biggest priorities was to overturn Roe V. Wade and to stop abortion access. It’s quite an intentional phenomenon, this is not an accident it’s quite deliberate.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: What do you think is society’s biggest misconception about women’s health clinics?
PORTER: You know it’s a good question, I mean American’s overwhelmingly if you poll them are pro-choice. And I feel that the laws that are being passed by extremely conservative legislators are not reflecting the general population’s opinion. So I think there’s a big disconnect between what’s happening in some conservative state houses and how Americans really feel. So my response to that is let’s talk about it, let’s talk about how these laws are passed and if you don’t agree with that show your opinion by this important right you have which is to vote and to use your words you know talk about what’s happening, and also for women and men to share their story. One in three American women will have an abortion before they’re 45. In the African American and Latino community that rate is a little bit higher largely because people have less access to birth control they have less access to health insurance that could cover birth control. This is an issue that affects millions and millions of women and yet we’re seeing access to clinics being stripped away.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: When you were shooting was there ever any days when you felt your safety was in jeopardy?
PORTER: Yes, it’s not safe to be an abortion provider in America. Clinics are bombed, doctors are killed clinic workers are killed or injured so we took the same precautions that the doctors take. I did a very early work in progress screening in North Carolina and an anti-choice activist published my name and called me an HBO filmmaker gone astray and put my picture up on an anti-choice blog that was full of extremists. So very quickly I realized this was not a movie about public defenders and you have to take safety precautions…. It is frightening, people who are anti-choice; some of them are quite extreme. We were about to be released and the man shot up the people at the clinic in Colorado. It’s not an abstract fear it is a very real fear that you could be injured doing this work.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: What was your process for funding the film?
PORTER: I got a number of independent grants up front. Chicken and Egg gave me a grant; they were actually the first funding in the project. The firelight media lab which is a lab for producers and directors of color ran by Stanly Nelson and his wife Marsha, they gave me a production grant. I kind of pieced together many smaller grants and had a big fundraising event in addition to launching a Kickstarter Campaign.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: Were there any moments in the film where you almost wanted to stop filming because of the intensity within the scenes.
PORTER: It’s kind of an occupational hazard. If you are working with really important topics that you care about it’s very frustrating to see people suffering needlessly it’s very very difficult and you have to do your job. If you job is to document what’s happening I try and tell myself the best thing I can do is keep going. Mostly my poor children get a grumpy mother and my husband gets a grumpy wife. Sometimes the inequities can seem overwhelming but when the film is done and it’s well received and people like you are doing interviews and asking these questions; when you’re saying you’re mad that keeps me going you know because that means I did my job, you’re as a mad as I was. It’s like having a baby, the birthing process isn’t always pleasant but it’s completely worth it.
CINEMATIQ MAGAZINE: Were there any scenes that were cut from the film for political or production reason.
PORTER: Yes with very personal topics like this that’s always a danger. There’s one woman who had a really heartbreaking story and she was kind of on the fence and she didn’t’ want to be in the film. But she was a person who had a small child, she’s married, she had been on welfare, she had just gotten a job and got off welfare and she’s pregnant. She really wanted to have a second child and it was just a terrible time for her because she couldn’t start her new job she couldn’t make the life she wanted for her family. So she was just devastated that she had to terminate a very wanted child. I don’t think there’s anything that hit home more clearly about the agonizing decisions that people have to make. They’re often not the decision they want to make but it’s the right decision for their life. And I thought how awful that not only she had to make this decision but she also had to walk through protesters screaming at her, she’s a baby killer. Or she had to scare up the money and have her family go without so she could afford a procedure to terminate a pregnancy that she wanted that’s heartbreaking and it says a lot about poverty, power and our economic situation. There was a scene we didn’t include where Dr. Parker was testifying before congress. And Ted Cruz was questioning him in a manner that I felt was very disrespectful. Dr. Parker talked about working in Ghana and Ted Cruz said “Well in Civilized Countries because Ghana’s not a civilized country.” The scene didn’t really work for the movie for a lot of reasons, it’s something I wish we could have included but sometimes you have to make decisions that are better for the structure of your film rather than your own desire to show people all the things you’ve seen. All the things you’ve seen don’t always work in your movie.
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