An advance screening of the PBS documentary “Below the Belt” was presented at the Gertrude C. Ford Center on Tuesday, March 28 by the Oxford Film Festival in partnership with Alfred P. Sloane’s Foundation’s “Science on Screen” program. A panel discussion about the documentary followed.
The film tracks the challenging effects of endometriosis and the continual fight for awareness on both a micro and macro level.
Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing severe pain in the pelvis and making it more difficult for women to get pregnant. Many women find its effects beginning at their first menstrual period and sometimes lasting until menopause.
“I found it incredibly hard for someone, anyone to take me seriously and believe what I was saying about my own body was true,” a patient says at the beginning of the film.
A staggering statistic lies at the center of director and Oxford native Shannon Cohn’s documentary. While endometriosis affects a similar number of women to that of diabetes (approximately 1 in 10 women of reproductive age), its U.S. government research funds sit only at approximately $26 million, as compared to the $1.2 billion spent on diabetes research, as reported by the National Institutes of Health.
The 50-minute film not only examines these discrepancies and other misnomers surrounding the disease, but also aims to enact change through representation, highlighting four courageous women searching for answers to the disease’s mysterious symptoms.
The powerful testimonies throughout underscore the film’s central arguments, deftly illustrating the societal and gender taboos that are associated with both a specific disease like endometriosis and the more general questions surrounding women’s health.
These issues serve as the launch pad for change, with many notable voices lending their wide-scale platforms to the ongoing fight for awareness.
“The goal with this film is to change both hearts and minds in ways that lead to progress in policy, research funding, educational and widespread awareness,” executive producer Hillary Rodham Clinton says in the film’s introduction. “We need you to help us take action, to help end the suffering, to make this clear to everyone in the healthcare field how important this is to come together and treat this disease as early and fully as possible.”
Additionally, the movie highlights the political effects of combating endometriosis and how the issue has managed to successfully break party boundaries for the betterment of women’s health.
“We screened for members of Congress in early March in a pivotal bi-partisan event co-hosted by Elizabeth Warren and Mitt Romney — something unheard of in Washington, D.C. these days,” Cohn said. “Because it’s not a political issue, it’s a human issue.”
Following the screening, Ole Miss Associate Professor of Journalism Cynthia Joyce hosted a panel discussion, which included Cohn, Ole Miss Women’s Basketball Head Coach Yolette McPhee-McCuin, OBGYN doctors Julie Harper and Erica Balthrop, Dr. Thomas Dobbs of the John D. Bower School of Population Health and Ole Miss graduate student Chesney Mardis.
The wide-ranging discussion focused on treatment nationwide and statewide — according to Balthrop, there are only four OBGYN offices throughout the entire Mississippi Delta — continually returning to what steps America needs to take in combating this widespread health crisis.
“We need to have health education so people are empowered to advocate. It’s not perfect. I wish everyone could know immediately what to do. But self-advocacy and familial advocacy is a great first step. We need to be less afraid to educate people on women’s reproductive health,” Dobbs said.
“Below the Belt” is executive produced by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Sen. Orrin Hatch and actress Rosario Dawson. The film will air on PBS this June. For more information on “Below the Belt,” visit the film’s website.