An audience gathered for a screening and question-and-answer session after the short film “Choices” on July 13. (Mama.Film)
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Whitni Carlson is a freelance writer based in Wichita.
Do stories inspire activism? Lela Meadow-Conner, founder of Mama.Film and co-founder of its daughter organization, rePRO, believes stories inspired Kansans to show up at the polls in record numbers Aug. 2 to vote “no,” shutting down the anti-abortion constitutional amendment.
The day before the election, Meadow-Conner said: “I feel hopeful for the Kansas community. There are huge numbers of people here with convictions about a woman’s right to choose. And there’s something energizing about doing creative work in a place where folks don’t just take that for granted. It’s inspiring to see the outcry for support.”
Now the results are in, with 58.89% of Kansas voters opposing the bill that would give the state government the power to further regulate abortion. The team at rePRO is celebrating, and diving in to keep working hard on their monthly newsletter, podcast and free film curation.
Partnering with activists, filmmakers, and writers across the country, rePRO has been a virtual film festival since 2020, exclusively airing and sharing films from female-identifying directors, with 67% directed by BIPOC or AAPI filmmakers.
The initial pandemic project, showcasing films dealing with women’s reproductive health issues and their complex contexts, launched quickly (two months from conception), thanks to a founding grant from the Dr. George Tiller Memorial Fund for the Advancement of Women’s Health along with an experienced and savvy leadership team: Jill Lafer, Mallory Martin, Meadow-Conner and Debby Samples. They share a combined 30-plus years of experience in the film industry and reproductive rights movement.
Current subscribers in the rePRO community receive a monthly periodical and podcast, along with a link to a free featured short film that engages with issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights. Their post in celebration of the election results commended each Kansan who turned out to make their voice heard at the election booth.
“The fight continues,” they write, “but today we’re taking time to celebrate.”
Maybe it’s difficult to see anything humorous about reproductive health issues, but part of the genius of rePRO’s model is its ability to collect passionate work made by creative, witty and intelligent women who are a force when gathered. One example I got to experience firsthand was the July 13 screening of the short film “Choices” at a private residence featuring a talkback with Lela Meadow-Conner, writer/actor Jess Jacobs and Rebecca Tong from Trust Women.
It was transformative to view the film in friendly company, with the chance to socialize. The challenging topic of the film led to the serious response worthy of it, but the reception felt embraced by warm arms and hearts.
Activism starts small, and films can feel like small potatoes even back when they were shared mainly on large screens. Right now, rePRO’s influence is mainly felt in personal, private settings: watching films on our phones or laptops as subscribers. We view these films, immerse ourselves in the creative offering of these incredible artists, and experience empathy-magic.
Meadow-Conner often quotes Margaret Mead in her Mama.Film correspondence: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
For many in Texas, Ohio, Missouri or Oklahoma, rePRO may feel like the family they’re missing. Meadow-Conner says she wants subscribers across the country to feel connected to a community by seeing representation on screen and feel less alone.
“We may not realize there are others dealing with the same thing,” she said. “Watching a film lets us step into the experience of a loved one. While watching, we are connected to another person’s life dilemmas and see the vastness of reproductive healthcare. It’s very gray. There’s a lot going on and a huge need for education.”
Emily Christensen, a writer for rePRO and long-time supporter of Mama.Film (as well as occasional contributor to Kansas Reflector) shared the result of the recent primary demonstrates there’s widespread support for abortion access, even in conservative Kansas.
“But it’s not a black-and-white issue,” Christensen says. “Almost no one supports unlimited abortion access or unlimited restrictions on abortion. This is where the stories that rePRO elevates are so important — it’s in stories of individual reproductive choice where we can really see how complicated these issues are.”
MamaFilm and rePRO are collaborating to highlight reproductive justice and women’s health.
“That includes stories about fertility, postpartum issues and parenthood. Bringing life into the world is an important project, and parents deserve an enormous amount of support as they work to make the right decisions for themselves and their families,” Christensen said.
So what’s next for this passionate team? MamaFilm is going through a metamorphosis.
Meadow-Conner says that “the world is changing, and we’re evolving with it. We plan to start producing more films under our own banner, taking films to more people within Kansas and to festivals across the country. Always with the goal of connection, creating communities of empathy through the stories we share.”
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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