'Jackson': LAFF Review

Jackson Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of LA Film Festival

Jackson Still - Publicity - H 2016

A modest but illuminating doc.

This documentary about the battles to restrict abortion in Mississippi focuses on a few key players on opposite sides of the debate.

Showcased at the recent LA Film Festival, Jackson is not the first documentary to expose the relentless campaign to restrict abortion rights in this country. But by focusing on just a few key players in one state in the South, the film brings freshness and force to the subject. In today's highly politicized climate, the film may not have an easy time finding an audience, but it will engage viewers who see it.

To its credit, Jackson does not offer up shrill polemics. Instead it humanizes the issues by presenting thoughtful portraits of a few key players in Jackson, Miss., where there is only one abortion clinic in the entire state. Shannon Brewer, the director of the clinic, is herself a single mother with six children. Even though she completed her pregnancies, she now fights unostentatiously to make abortion available in Mississippi, despite the constant pro-life protestors stationed outside the clinic.

Director Maisie Crow also follows one African-American woman considering abortion, April Jackson, who ultimately decides to go through with the pregnancy, even though she has four young children already and faces tremendous financial hardships. The film contends that impoverished women of color are most affected by the state’s stringent anti-abortion policies. Partly because of the absence of meaningful sex education, Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any state in the country. 

There is another woman appearing in the film who adds a touch of balance. Barbara Beavers is a white pro-life crusader who helps to staff a clinic misleadingly labeled the Center for Pregnancy Choices. April goes there for help, not quite realizing the political agenda of the clinic. After April delivers her fifth child, Barbara considers the question of whether April should be given advice on birth control. She wrestles with the question but ultimately argues that abstinence is the best answer. At the end of the film, April, still unmarried, is pregnant with her sixth child and struggling to survive financially. Barbara donates a birthday cake for April’s youngest child.

Like many other states in the South, Mississippi has tried to curtail abortions by passing a law requiring that doctors at abortion clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Because of the controversies, hospitals in the state generally refuse these privileges to clinic doctors. But the Court of Appeals ruled that law unconstitutional, allowing the one clinic in the state to stay open for the time being. The Supreme Court heard arguments regarding a similar case in Texas this spring.

Given the passions of people on both sides of the debate, these controversies are not likely to be resolved any time soon. This well-crafted film adds to our understanding by humanizing some of the opponents.

Director-director of photography: Maisie Crow
Producers: Jamie Boyle, Maisie Crow
Executive producers: Johanna Hamilton, Barbara Ehrenreich, Alissa Quart
Editor: Jamie Boyle
Music: Tyler Strickland

Not rated, 93 minutes