JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – There have been “outcries both for and against” the screening of a controversial US anti-abortion film, which opens at selected South African movie theaters next Friday, according to its local distributor.
Unplanned is based on a book by Abby Johnson, a former director of an abortion clinic who became an anti-abortion activist.
“On the one hand, the pro-life vs pro-choice debate has the fortuity of being a debate precisely because there are opposing views on the matter,” wrote Maretia Wiggit, head of acquisitions and distribution at Downtown Entertainment, in response to a recent complaint about the screening of the film in the country’s cinemas.
“There are a multitude of experiences on either side of the spectrum. Whether I’ve been working with unbiased entities such as Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro on this film, or with fervently passionate organisations that aim to use Abby Johnson’s story and profound experience as portrayed in Unplanned as a vehicle to amplify their various messages, I’ve realised that numerous South Africans are actively searching for ways to better our society as best they know how.
“As uncondemning as we have personally experienced Unplanned to be, Downtown Entertainment and TruthTV believe that this true story will spark the beginning of healing for thousands of women faced with heart-breaking choices every day.”
On Thursday, the SA Human Rights Commission will hold a dialogue on abortion with the Women’s Legal Centre, Sonke Gender Justice, Marie Stopes, and Section27, among other organisations.
Angelica Pino, programmes director at Sonke Gender Justice, said: “We believe we are facing a serious backlash against hard won women’s rights all over the world, particularly in the sexual and reproductive health and rights space.
“This is led by conservative men who have little respect or understanding of women’s lives and challenges, particularly in poor communities.
“One example is the backlash against the right to bodily integrity of women, which includes the right to access safe abortion. Where are these conservative people when women from poor communities can’t access a safe abortion and carry to end unplanned pregnancies? Are they there to provide for the women and babies faced with dire social and economic challenges?
“Ironically, the same conservative forces that are behind movies like Unplanned and oppose the right of women to choose, are the ones fighting comprehensive sexuality education for our children.”
Pino said the health and human rights organisation was concerned at reports of women who want access to safe abortion – as per the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Termination of Pregnancy Act – and are met with “judgemental attitudes” by public health service providers.
“Public health professionals are expected to provide compassionate, informed and non-judgemental services to women. They are not in public hospitals or clinics to impose their religious or personal views on women.”
Melissa Hertz, of pro-life organisation Project Life, said the film had “great value. It’s going to change a lot of minds and also help a lot of women to grieve and heal from the trauma that is post-abortion syndrome.”
Errol Naidoo, the founder and chief executive of the Family Policy Institute, attended the premiere this week and described it as a “powerful, incredible” film that was “not judgemental” but exposed the “grim reality of abortion”.
He accused Nu Metro and Ster Kinekor of not wanting to show the film as it was not politically correct.
“Movies have been shown in this country that the Christian community doesn’t agree with and we’re told it’s freedom of speech. When it comes to movies like Unplanned, the same rules don’t apply,” he said.
But Chantelle Burrows, the marketing and content executive at Nu Metro Cinemas, said “there was no public pressure for us to screen Unplanned.
“It’s a limited release in select cinemas available to audiences who wish to see it.”
Nu Metro, she said, did in “no way endorse, support, advocate or necessarily agree with the opinions being expressed by the films and other content being exhibited in our cinemas.
“We have to cater to a widely diverse audience, representing all South Africans coming from various backgrounds, genders, religions, cultures, social standings and socio-political viewpoints on all topics of potential discussion or debate.
“Nu Metro fully supports and protects all basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights of South Africa – including, but not limited to, the rights of women and freedom of expression/opinion by all.”
Nicolette Scheepers, the chief of content and programming at Ster Kinekor, said the theatrical rights for Unplanned had been acquired by Downtown Entertainment.
“We had planned a release accordingly for October 28, 2019. We were then advised by the distributor on September 30 that the film was being pulled from release due to production delays.
“The distributor contacted us again in mid-November to confirm a new release date of February 28, 2020, and we have scheduled the release accordingly. Release date changes are quite common in this industry and in this case were at no point in time informed by the subject matter of the film or by any public pressure.”
Watch the touching trailer below:- “Unplanned”