If you’ve been watching ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu and are equally terrified and entertained by how a book written in the mid-1980’s could hit so shockingly close to home in 2017, you’ll want to hear about ‘The Red Lotus’. The forthcoming short indie film, created by New York-based executive producer, writer, and actor Shara Ashley Zeiger, is a dystopian, futuristic film looking into the state of women’s reproductive rights at a time when abortion has been made illegal.
The story centers around two sisters who go away for a weekend to strengthen their relationship and end up uncovering a secret that will bind them for life. Michelle drags her sister Debbie to a yoga retreat only to reveal that there is no retreat, but an underground abortion clinic. Michelle needs Debbie’s support because they are no longer legal.
Shara and her team have done most of the principal photography on the film, which was shot on location in Waterford, Connecticut, and now they are raising additional funds through a Kickstarter campaign in order to finish production and submit to film festivals. The long term plan is to also generate enough interest that it becomes a feature length film.
Why is this film relevant and important right now? Just look at the messages about women’s rights and bodies coming out of Washington D.C and spreading to many state legislatures across the country. With Vice President Mike Pence openly and consistently declaring he want to send “Roe v Wade to the ash heap of history”, and a number of Republican-held states voting on extreme measures that would almost immediately put women and doctors in jail for abortion should that happen, we need to see portrayals of what it would look like if abortion were illegal again.
Sadly, it is as if America has some sort of collective amnesia as to the reality of women’s lives pre-Roe v Wade in 1973. Making abortion illegal does not stop abortion. It makes it unsafe, and means more and more women are forced to seek out dangerous, unregulated, underground clinics, or resort to taking matters into their own hands, and resulting in a shocking number of preventable deaths.
Shara Ashley Zeiger says the subject matter and story idea for the film had been brewing since the Presidential election result in November 2016, and by the way things are going with Trump’s Global Gag Rule executive order, Congress voting on stripping funds from Planned Parenthood, and voting on a healthcare bill which would gravely affect women and children, it seems she was right on the money.
“It started on my mind in November. I was in the middle of the run of my play ‘Roughly Speaking’ and thinking about what’s next for me, and I couldn’t help but be effected by everything that was going on. I’d sit in my dressing room on 28th street and we’d hear the protests on the street on 5th ave below. I am fortunate enough to have never been in a situation where I needed an abortion, but I knew that I knew so many women who have,” she told us in an email.
Her own personal health history played a factor in looking deeper into the issue of abortion, especially in the event it would become outlawed.
“I’m Jewish, and my mom’s a Tay sach’ s carrier. I’m married now and hoping to actually have children soon, so birth has been very much on my mind and the choice and the pressure women face surrounding it. I know my husband’s not a carrier, but if he was we could potentially have a Tay Sach’s baby which means abortion would be very much on the table for me. It’s the factor a lot of people don’t think about, but that’s me,” she said, pointing out just one of the many nuances and types of circumstances that are completely ignored by the far Right, anti-choice movement.
In an effort to make the story of ‘The Red Lotus’ as realistic as possible, Shara interviewed a number of women in real life who had had an abortion.
“I decided to interview women. I posted something on Facebook asking if anyone would be willing to chat, and privately they came out in droves. I learned so many women in my life have been through it, mostly through Planned Parenthood, and mostly alone. It’s amazing to me to have to go through something like that alone without the support of your family. Inspired by some locations I knew, and what the world could be, and a team I had brought together, the story sort of wrote itself,” she said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in America by age 45. It’s no surprise Shara received many responses to her post on social media. Part of the reason many women may never speak about their experience is the continued stigma, shame and demonization that is perpetuated about abortion through political and religious propaganda. This is why films like ‘The Red Lotus’ and numerous other mainstream conversations bringing these stories out of the shadows (such as the ‘Shout Your Abortion’ movement) are important.
“I’m hoping this film makes a huge impact. It’s very timely, that’s obvious. There aren’t many films about abortion. It’s taboo. No one likes to talk about it. What ‘The Red Lotus’ does is presents it in a very real human way. It’s a story about sisters. I never push anything in the film about an agenda or a certain message (despite the fact I am pro choice). I present a story, where one sister needs and abortion and the other sister has very real reasons for not supporting her. Lots of things happen, and the end brings things together in a way that will really make audiences think and care about both of them,” Shara explains.
For too long, anti-choice Conservatives have been successful in pushing monolithic, incorrect, fact-free narratives around abortion where women’s rights are either non-existent, or women who seek abortions are painted as “murderers”, promiscuous, irresponsible etc. You can see the chilling and regressive effect it has had on policies and policy-makers, where myths such as “abortion causes breast cancer” are commonly peddled by the Right, or women are described as “hosts”, as one classy Oklahoma male legislator claimed.
What’s missing from the conversation at large are the individual, complex realities that are facing women in America (and across the world) which lead them to making this often difficult decision. Shara believes ‘The Red Lotus’ can help steer the focus toward something more productive.
“It’s a film that sits with you and sparks conversations. Policy is one thing, but for us to secure our rights we need to care about people. Change happens over the dinner table in households all across America. That’s where it starts, and that’s where I want to meet people with this film,” she said.
Speaking for ourselves, we don’t want to live in an America where all abortion is outlawed once again. There are far more productive and (proven) effective methods of getting women the help they need to help reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion rates. But while that is going to be a whole different political and social struggle in itself, to get two opposing sides together to agree on common ground that could drastically impact nation policy, entertainment and art that confronts audiences with that whole “be careful what you wish for” thing by showing what happens when abortion is illegal is important.
Be sure to donate to the Kickstarter campaign while it is still running, and continue to support Shara, her team and ‘The Red Lotus’. With a mostly-female production crew, a female director, and an acclaimed team of creatives who are making this film happen, we can’t wait to see more.
Shara Ashley Zeiger is raising funds for The Red Lotus: A Narrative Film About Women’s Rights on Kickstarter! The Red Lotus is a film about Women’s Rights, sisterhood and the human spirit in a dystopian future.