Heartland 2020: Belly of the Beast

A whistleblower at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Georgia recently revealed a rash of hysterectomies performed on immigrant women without their consent, sterilizing them. That is pretty fucked up. Further reporting also indicated the operations were performed by a doctor who was not a board certified OB-GYN. Social media immediately blew up, accusing the doctor and ICE of being racist and attempting to use hysterectomies as a method of population control in immigrant communities. Accurate assessments, but only a snapshot of the battles waged in women’s detention facilities between the detained and their doctors, who often take women’s reproductive decisions into their own hands.

Belly of the Beast is about Kelli Dillon, a woman who served her time and then some. After murdering her abusive husband, Dillon was sentenced to 15 years behind bars. She missed her children’s childhoods. Birthdays, school, everything witnessed through photographs behind a pane of glass. During her incarceration, Dillon was sterilized without her consent by one of the prison doctors. After her release, Dillion and activist lawyer Cynthia Chandler led a movement to change California eugenics laws in hopes of combating coercive sterilization practices on the state level.

The film — directed by Erika Cohn and produced by Christen Marquez, Angela Tucker and Nicole Docta — documents that fight while delving into the history of eugenics laws that made it possible for doctors to take such matters into their own hands. What is clear from current events is that the right to make those decisions is still frequently stolen from women. Sometimes it’s due to directives from above, a doctor’s personal ideals or due to payment schemes that incentivize the surgery for surgeons. It’s a serious social justice issue that deserves the light shed upon it. Beast is a harrowing piece of work that emphasizes the personal tragedies of the women affected and the severe uphill battle yet to come in ending these practices and truly codify women’s rights to choose their own care.


The 29th Annual Heartland Festival will be held October 8-18, 2020, with both virtual and drive-in screening options. Check out the official website for screening times and ticket information. 


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Administrator of Midwest Film Journal. Previously a staff writer for TheFilmYap.com, Evan has been writing film criticism in the Indianapolis area for over half a decade. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. He also reviews Oreos.


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