In many respects, 2018 was a banner year for Argentina. It hosted the G20 summit and the Youth Olympics, and had a relatively decent showing in the FIFA World Cup. But what stood out the most was the historic abortion debate that completely dominated the social and political landscapes like never before. Having never before been debated in the country’s history, the quest to legalize abortion hurtled Argentina to the center of the world stage, ignited by its burgeoning women’s movement and sustained by the persistence of the #AbortoLegalYa battlecry.
After months of intense campaigning, myriad marches, and social media buzz, the bill was eventually defeated in the Senate, breaking the hearts of pro-choice activists both in Argentina and abroad. The amount of media coverage also sparked the attention and interest of two British filmmakers, Andrew Gold and Lucy D’Cruz. After learning about the now-infamous loca del bebito (or “crazy baby lady” – in fact, our first WTF episode is about her) Mariana Rodriguez Varela, the two were inspired to make a documentary about the issue, gaining on the ground access and sharing first-person testimonies. The result, My Body, Their Choice, is a film that sheds continued light on the pro-choice cause and the fervent push to make safe, legal, and free abortion a reality in Argentina.
Speaking to The Bubble, Lucy and Andrew shared how the idea for the documentary came to fruition. “I always enjoy interviewing really eccentric people. So, when the abortion vote began to take over the country and I kept seeing Mariana Rodriguez Varela in The Bubble, I felt that I absolutely had to talk to her. I wanted to try to understand her point of view, but also take her to task,” Andrew explains. He “messaged her for months” with the hopes of gaining access, a tall order given the harassment – “death threats and photos of aborted fetuses” – she’d been receiving, according to him. Eventually, Mariana agreed to speak to them and the project came to be.
“As a woman, I had faced the difficulties of living in what I perceived as a very male-dominated society, and I felt really strongly about this topic, and that this was a story that needed to be told to the rest of the world,” Lucy says. After meeting Andrew through various expat connections right before the Senate vote was to take place, they “decided to make something together.” Though they started by interviewing Mariana “in order to show the mindset of the pro-life/anti-choice side,” Lucy says that “regardless of the result [of the debate], we felt compelled to spread awareness” about the fight to legalize abortion in Argentina.
At the outset, Gold and D’Cruz were vaguely familiar with the pro- and anti-choice sides, but had no idea what they were in for. “What surprised me was how many ‘pro-lifers’ there were and their views on things. Some interviewees told us that you could have an abortion after nine months, so it seemed their stance was based on a lot of misinformation,” Lucy recalls. Andrew, meanwhile, was floored by the magnitude and the passion behind it all: “I got wrapped up in [the Senate vote rally] in a way I never thought possible. But the passionate, mostly female crowd were like an earthquake tearing down the status quo. The sheer number of women turning up in droves on the coldest, wettest day in living memory made the ground – and the Senate – shake.”
Did they struggle with providing someone like Mariana a broader platform to share her perhaps dangerous ideas? Andrew puts it bluntly: “As a filmmaker, I’m far more interested in interviewing people with extreme opinions than those I agree with. Platforming extremists can be an issue, but what’s potentially even more troubling are these re-affirming social media bubbles we all move in. I think it’s important to understand how the other side think and where they’re coming from, when learning how to defeat them.” Lucy adds that they “needed to get inside her head to try to understand how the [anti-choice] side thinks” and believes that by sharing her first-person views and opinions, “it will encourage the pro-choice side to fight even harder.”
Putting together My Body, Their Choice wasn’t a simple walk in the park, of course. Beyond speaking with activists like Mariana and documenting the vigil outside Argentina’s Senate on the night of the vote, Lucy and Andrew dove into the darker side of illegal abortion in Buenos Aires. They even gained access to what’s known as a crisis pregnancy center – places that use ambiguous language to lure desperate women looking to terminate to then bombard them with anti-choice messaging and imagery – to show firsthand what these operations look like. Dealing with the logistics – Lucy had to obtain a urine sample from a pregnant friend and tape it to her leg, in addition to securing a hidden camera – “was the hardest scene to put together,” according to Andrew. But a determined Lucy “felt it was so important to really show the reality of what women in Argentina face” in the case of an unwanted pregnancy.
And then there are the first-person testimonials. Despite the seemingly widespread acceptance of the pro-choice movement and a women’s right to decide what she does with her body, many women are reluctant to share their stories with abortion in Argentina on the record. However, Lucy and Andrew were able to connect with some who “felt strongly about telling us their stories because they do not want women to have to go through the same in the future.” One contributor, in particular, discussed her abortion that “involved going to a run-down apartment building, paying in cash, and being sent out barely recovered from anesthesia and vomiting, covered in blood.” Lucy recalls these “horrendous and shocking” stories as the “biggest struggle” for her during filming.
- Read More: I Had An Abortion in Argentina
Now, Lucy and Andrew are looking for financial assistance to finish the documentary, including audio mixing, music licensing, and color grading. They’ve established an Indiegogo page – currently, they’re at 30 percent of the £8,000 goal – where contributors can keep up with the campaign’s progress, learn more about the abortion debate in Argentina, and access other relevant resources. It’s their hope that supporters “continue to fight, campaign, and spread awareness” to “put pressure on the Senate to change the law,” Lucy says. “We hope that in some way our film will do that also, and we hope that we can get it finished and distributed to shed light on this. The more awareness we can spread as a whole, the better.”
Tapping into their international network, the filmmakers hope that exposure and pressure will help push Argentina to legalize abortion in the near future. The plan is to complete the film before the next vote in order to up the ante in terms of pressure and support from the pro-choice camp. Lucy believes “we are in a time where freedom and choice should be and are becoming more widely accepted.” As women around the world continue to fight for their right to choose, films like My Body, Their Choice are more important than ever.