HRWFF Review: Belly of the Beast



2020 was a busy year for news, but one of the biggest talking points was the death of George Floyd (one of many) and the Black Lives Matter protests. The USA has a serious problem with institutional racism which impacts on every aspect of life. The criminal justice and prisons systems are no exceptions. Indeed, given the social, economic and ethnic make-up of most penitentiaries discrimination and human rights abuses are often rife.

Belly of the Beast, the new documentary from Erika Cohn, shines a light on a particularly nauseous aspect of this abuse. Filmed over a period of seven years, it follows a group of women who are fighting to right a heinous wrong. Inside the Central California Women’s Facility doctors are sterilising women without their full consent. These inmates are almost always repeat offenders and non-white; eugenics alive and well on the west coast.

Belly of the Beast follows victims and activists as they try and raise awareness and get further safeguards added into law. It’s clear that this is an intrinsic issue throughout the state and also in other places across America. Cohn does a great job of highlighted a horrendous injustice, demonstrating how this exploitation takes place and following the brave women campaigning for change. Belly of the Beast is vitally important documentary filmmaking.

Belly of the Beast screens at Human Rights Watch Film Festival London.  

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