Texas is a state that’s often seen as being grossly behind the times on abortion rights, and they have an army of conservative politicians hard at work attempting to reinstate harsh restrictions on the medical procedure. In 2013, state Senator Wendy Davis took a stand against SB5 (which eventually led to the highly controversial SB8, also known as the “Heartbeat Law”) and a stand for women’s access to fair and safe reproductive healthcare. What she didn’t expect were the thousands of supporters, mostly women, who showed up to add their voices to the chorus by letting Texas know that the state had gone too far.
The ensuing 13 hour filibuster and the effect it had on the feminist movement is chronicled in “Shouting Down Midnight,” director Gretchen Stoeltje‘s in-depth documentary. It’s a film for those interested in the country’s political system as well as those fighting for a women’s right to make decisions about her own body and her own medical care.
Stoeltje interviews Davis and includes actual footage from her time on the floor of the Texas Senate. Her determination to delay the vote on the bill, which eventually passed, went so far that she had a catheter put in so she would not have to excuse herself to the restroom. As the word got out via social media and the significance of the event spread, the state capitol eventually filled to capacity with supporters. It was a packed house, full of citizens that wanted to make it known that they, too, had had enough.
Stoeltje understands the significance of this story, and tells it well. Using archival footage and interviews with activists, the film conveys why abortion is such a hot button issue and important topic for so many women. There’s a sting to the personal letters sent in from women who have had the procedure themselves, or those who care or have had some type of experience with a woman’s right to choose. There’s an equally bitter sting watching the footage of Davis and her male counterparts ignoring these emotional letters as they are being read during the filibuster. It made my blood boil.
“Shouting Down Midnight” is a very divisive documentary, and it may be more easily accepted by those with opposing views if Stoeltje had stuck with Davis’ story only. But such is the nature of political films, and this one evolves into an overstuffed chronicle of the modern feminist movement and the power of social media to inspire the next generation of abortion advocates and activists. It could stand a little editing, as some of the more powerful aspects get lost in the noise. In the end it’s clear that young women care too, and they have the ability to make change in the world. For every bit of disappointment and discouragement, there is also hope.