Reversing Roe is a new documentary feature directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (represented for advertising projects via kaboom as ricki+annie). The film exposes a decades long political campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade using interviews with abortion rights supporters and opponents. We spoke with the directing duo about the film, which is now available on Netflix.
How did Reversing Roe originate?
Annie: The film was originally developed by Lincoln Square Productions (a division of ABC) as an historic examination – think “Eyes On The Prize” approach - of reproductive rights in America. We first started to talk about this project on Election Day, 2016, and we all felt like, okay, let’s take our time and figure out just how we want to tell this story. When Trump won the presidency, the whole project took on a new urgency. Eva Longoria came on board as an Executive Producer, and championed the project, which was sold to Netflix. We started shooting at the inauguration in 2017.
What was your approach to the film?
Annie: The film begins with a look at the realities and the culture in America around abortion before the wide-reaching decision of Roe v. Wade. At the time, there was growing concern and awareness of illegal abortion and the rates of women who were suffering as a result; abortion was considered by many to be a public health issue, not a political one, and the earliest waves of reform actually came from Republicans who were following the lead of physicians who were seeing a real crisis in ER wards across the nation – and these doctors were for the most part white and male. There were calls in various states to liberalize abortion laws to allow women to seek legal and safe care, and Gov. Ronald Reagan was the first to sign a liberalized abortion bill in California. Following the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, there was tremendous ideological pushback that placed reproductive rights as a central election issue and changed the political landscape of America.
Ricki: In the film, we follow a number of central figures in the debate on reproductive rights, those who self-identify as “pro-life” and others who consider themselves ‘pro-choice.” No one is “pro-abortion” -- our goal was to have frank discussions about the various aspects of reproductive rights, and the fallout from a landmark decision that ultimately helped to transform the Republican Party.
How did Justice Kennedy’s retirement impact the film?
Ricki: We’d locked picture when the announcement was made. It was quickly agreed by everyone involved, and at the encouragement of Netflix, that we revisit the film’s ending. It now includes the potential appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, and a look at how a conservative Supreme Court could impact, among other major issues, reproductive rights legislation.
How do you know when a project is right for you?
Ricki: Our films tend to be character and story driven, so in many ways this was both a departure and an opportunity to explore an issue with historic context and differing perspectives. We generally embrace projects that are either very timely or timeless with stories that we perceive as vital.
Annie: It’s hard to have constructive dialogue when people are so polarized around abortion; however we hope this film sparks conversation about its politicization and what’s at issue in the coming election and beyond. Since the film is being released before the midterm elections, we also hope it activates people to vote. Currently, turn out for American elections is abysmal. If more people are engaged in the election process, the legislative results will be more truly reflect what constituents want. Axios released a big poll this week that shows 71% of respondents want Roe to remain intact. Let’s make sure our legislatures echo that.