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Parents' Guide to

Belly of the Beast

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Mature themes, strong language in prison eugenics docu.

Movie NR 2020 82 minutes
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As this compassionate documentary makes clear, being shocked and horrified by government actions is, sadly, nothing new these days. But the fact that human rights violations of this scale were occurring until only recently in prisons in California -- considered the United States' most progressive state -- may send some viewers reeling. Eugenics, the practice of preventing people who are considered "inferior" from reproducing in order to create a "stronger" population, has been going on for more than a century: Belly of the Beast reveals that Nazi Germany used California's model of sterilization as part of their program to build a "superior race." Director Erika Cohn makes it very clear that this atrocity still exists and that some people are still happy to support it.

The outrage sparked by all of the above is balanced with inspiration. The organization highlighted here, Justice Now -- a small, determined group of women from all walks of life who create change through purpose and dedication -- is an amazing example of what's possible. Cohn encourages compassion and understanding by making it very clear what it means to a woman to be stripped of her right to create a family. And then she allows the "other side" their voice. In what may be the most powerful part of the film, the medical personnel who are conducting the illegal hysterectomies and tubal ligations express their views of why it's better to sterilize criminals. (Social media posts are also used to show supporting public opinion.) Hearing their cruel comments after the movie has so clearly explained the tragic plight of the victims underlines the speakers' ignorance -- and, for some viewers, may expose their own.

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