by Page Forrest
I did not think Sewanee would celebrate Banned Book Week so literally. Of course, the University wasn’t entirely uncreative. They banned a movie instead of a book, so that’s something new. Obvious Child was supposed to play at the SUT September 25-28. The movie follows a comedian in her twenties who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand. It received excellent reviews, and I was really excited to have a chance to see it. However, because the main character chooses to have an abortion, the movie was not shown that weekend. According to Terry Papillon, Dean of Students, the SUT received complaints that “a comedy about a decision concerning abortion was not appropriate for the theatre, and especially not before election day when abortion is an important issue in TN.” The SUT chose to acknowledge these complaints as viable, and first removed the movie entirely, then announced that the movie would be shown later in November, after the fall elections. However, it is mind-boggling to me that the aforementioned complaints would be accepted as grounds for not showing the movie. I fail to see how a movie that features abortion is “not appropriate for the theatre.” On October 15, The Road was played, complete with displays of cannibalism and murder. The weekend of September 20, the SUT showed 22 Jump Street, which heavily features illegal drug use and violence (albeit in a comedic fashion). These movies weren’t even questioned. In fact, most would go out of their way to defend the illegal acts in the movie, talking about how integral they are to the plot. But then what about Obvious Child?
Abortion is neither illegal nor violent, especially not the way it is portrayed in the film, which displays the main character sitting in the chair before the procedure is performed, and then ends the scene. The abortion itself isn’t even shown. However, it is still somehow “inappropriate.” My bets are on that it wasn’t the fact that abortion was a heavy part of the movie, but that it was featured positively. There’s no horror story, no huge psychological repercussions after the abortion, just a regular woman having a fairly common medical procedure. Abortion is not inappropriate, it’s a medical procedure in this country that many people voluntarily undergo and feel content with. The political and religious views of specific groups do not dictate what is inappropriate for mass audiences, and if they do, they’re sure doing a poor job of it, not silencing movies that feature murder, cannibalism, and narcotics.
The other main contention I have is that because abortion features heavily in Tennessee’s elections this November, those who issued the complaints feel the topic shouldn’t be discussed. I believe that the opposite is true. Discussion of issues is key to making informed decisions. Every person should be able to be exposed to all sides of an issue before they vote. If anything, Obvious Child would have prompted discussion about abortion, and given movie-goers a chance to think about the issue more thoroughly, in the context of everyday lives, rather than as a politicized agenda topic. Amendment 1, the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would exclude abortion from Tennessee’s right to privacy laws, needs to be discussed. The way to promote political awareness is not through hiding issues, but trying to get people to talk about them, and research them. Political efficacy is necessary for democracy, and to remove a forum for people to discuss relevant topics creates an environment where democracy cannot function to the fullest extent. The college seems unaware of the somewhat humorous decision it has made, to ban a movie from showing during Banned Book Week. However, there is a small irony in that the movie that replaced Obvious Child was Fahrenheit 451. Fahrenheit 451, of course, deals with the silencing of independent social and political thought by removing books and controlling media content.