By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
“Belly of the Beast”
is such a disconcerting yet important documentary that exposes modern-day eugenics and human rights abuses of women in California’s prison system.
Directed by Emmy and Peabody award-winning filmmaker Erika Cohn
(“The Judge” and “In Football We Trust”), “Belly of the Beast” will debut Oct. 16
in limited theaters in Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Washington D.C.
“Belly of the Beast” will also make its national television debut on the award-winning PBS series “Independent Lens” on Nov. 23.
Multi-Grammy Award winning and two-time Oscar nominated singer/songwriter Mary J. Blige
lends her voice to the doc with the powerful song, “See What You’ve Done.” In the movie press notes Blige said she was so moved by “Belly of The Beast” that she was “inspired to write a song that would amplify the voices of women in prison. “See what You’ve Done” is a testimony, a call to be strong, and an anthem for a movement.”
That movement was sparked in part when a whistleblower at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Georgia unveiled numerous hysterectomies performed on immigrant women without their consent. Even worse, many of the women trusted the doctor who wasn’t even a Board-Certified OB-GYN.
These hysterectomy procedures were being done on women to decrease the population in poor, immigrant regions.
“Belly of the Beast” was filmed over seven years and offers personal accounts from current and former incarcerated victims at Central California Women’s Facility, the world’s largest women’s prison. Women like Kelli Dillon,
15 years there for murdering her abusive husband.
When Dillon complained of abdominal pain while in prison, she was examined by a doctor at the facility who said she had fibroids. Dillon later discovered she had been sterilized by the prison doctor without her consent.
Upon release from prison, Dillon reached out to Bay Area activist lawyer Cynthia Chandler
and they waged a lengthy battle against the Department of Corrections to expose the illegal practice of sterilization in California.
“Belly and the Beast” reveals a pattern of racism and discrimination among minorities seeking healthcare while in prison. Many of the doctors, managers and officials within the system maintained that paying $100,000 or more of taxpayer’s money on these sterilizations would still be cheaper than them having kids and being on welfare.
In 2014, former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law SB 1135, the prison anti-sterilization bill making it illegal to sterilize people/prisoners for the purpose of birth control.
The documentary notes that none of the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) doctors or officials faced consequences for their actions and declined interview requests. They did however issue a statement noting “an enhanced focus on women’s health” since the bill passed.
It took courageous women like Kelli Dillon to risk nearly everything to bring these reproductive injustices to light and as “Belly of the Beast” notes, this battle is still far from over.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For "BELLY OF THE BEAST"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.