Making ‘Aftershock’, a documentary about the death of a black mother

“Black lives matter because black wombs matter!” Shawnee Benton Gibson chanted from the stage during a National Action Network rally in Washington, DC, in 2020.

In October 2019, her daughter Shamony Gibson died just two weeks after giving birth. Her death, at the age of 30, is another grim symbol of a national crisis: the pandemic of black mother deaths. USA is the best dangerous industrialized country give birth, with Black women die at three times the rate of white women.

Not long after Shamony’s death, her mother along with her partner, Omari Maynard, held a celebration of her life that they called “Aftershock.” Before that, Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, directors of a document with the same title as the event, contact them.

“We didn’t know them, but they were willing to let us come and film,” Lee said in an interview this month with Eiselt. “That really kicks in and speaks to the movie as it is now.”

Soon after, the directors met with Bruce McIntyre, who held a press conference to raise alarm about maternal mortality and demand accountability for the death of his partner, Amber Rose. Isaac, who died postpartum in April 2020.

Shamony and Amber anchor “Aftershock,” not only examining America’s horrifying maternal mortality rates among Black and brown women, but also following women’s loved ones as they grapple with new pain and struggles. fight to find a solution. Bringing together many themes, the directors delve into the US health system – shedding light on the disparities in Black and brown communities and the massive neglect that befell them due to Systematic racism goes back centuries.

“History is everything,” said Eiselt, who directed the 2018 documentary. “93Queen” about a female emergency response unit in Brooklyn. “Aftershock” is the directorial debut of Lee, who has produced movies like “Monster” and the Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It” (by her husband, Spike Lee).

“It was really important for us to show us how we got here,” Eiselt said, “that this crisis is not just coming from nowhere. It is a historical continuum that begins in 1619, where black women are devalued and dehumanized. And here we are. “

Movie, streaming on Hulupresents a series of jarring facts – for one, caesarean section boom since the 1970s. Procedures, often more profitable For the hospital, the results are significant more maternal deaths than vaginal delivery.

Despite the difficult subject matter, the film is not filled with tragedy. Instead, it is underpinned by optimism and hope: in families’ fight for change and in efforts on Capitol Hill, especially Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act 2021This would be the largest investment in maternal health in US history.

Here’s what Eiselt and Lee, who had never worked together before, learned about filmmaking, and themselves, with this project.

It didn’t take long to realize that the documentary was shot at the height of Covid, with transparent mask wearing and lots of outdoor scenes. At one point, Omari, a teacher, talked to a student via laptop while caring for her newborn baby.

“Oh my God, how are we going to do this?” Lee remembers telling Eiselt at the beginning of the pandemic. “We had to adjust,” says Lee, and “quick and nimble.” They find ways to pivot, including giving the iPhones to Omari, Shawnee and Bruce to film themselves at home and “get on with themselves”.

The filming plan at hospitals in New York and in Tulsa, Okla., was also complicated. (Oklahoma’s maternal mortality rates are twice that of the country as a whole, with Black women disproportionately representing those deaths.)

“Perhaps everything will work out in the end,” Lee said. “We’re out on the street more and have very small photo shoots.”

Early in the film, Bruce and Omari form a deep bond. The pair continued to gather with other Black men whose partners had died in a similar way, finding solace and sympathy for each other.

“People are often struck by the fact that we followed the fathers in this film,” Lee said. “Can see men raising their children – people who clearly love their partners, who are motivated by love for their partner, for their community, for their family. – it’s also really special to us, something we didn’t expect when we first got down to make this movie. “

“Black maternal mortality is not just a women’s problem,” says Lee. It’s a community issue. That’s everyone’s problem. “

Before Lee and Eiselt met at a conference in 2019 – “I’m pregnant, maybe I look crazy,” Eiselt jokes – they were strangers. But their shared vision, coupled with their passion and urgency, drove them to collaborate.

“You need that passion just to jump in with someone, you know? We were just like, ‘we’re going to do this,'” Eiselt said. in my life.”

“We were really deep from the start,” Lee said.

As for any moment of testing between them, there were times, Eiselt said, where Lee would push back: “She would say as if, ‘You don’t have that perspective.’ She is a black woman. I do not.”

These conversations prompted Eiselt to “think very deeply about everything that we’re doing,” she said, especially since they were filming in the studio. George Floyd Rebellion. “We’ve been through a lot of great world events,” says Eiselt. “We have grown a lot because of the circumstances of the world.”

“We’re going to do it, but in spirit, how are we going to make it better?” Lee added. “It’s always been about, how do we enhance the story?”

The close nature of the documentary, brings viewers into the new pain of the heart-pounding families when watching. For filmmakers, maintaining the right distance is sometimes difficult.

For example, Eiselt became pregnant for part of the project and then after giving birth. At one point, she interviewed Omari over the course of nine months. “To break it down, I had to really almost paralyze myself in a way that wasn’t necessarily the best thing,” she says. “But I felt that, at some point, if I started going there, I wouldn’t come back.”

This balance is not uncommon for documentary filmmakers, she said. “I feel like in film school you should study psychology.”

But watching Shawnee, Omari and Bruce “turn their pain into strength,” Eiselt said, empowered the directors.

I couldn’t have shed a tear in the ring,” Lee said, “if Shawnee was out there rushing forward. “

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