Dawn Porter, who lives on the 300 block of Missouri Street, has directed several award-winning, social justice documentaries. Gideon’s Army (2013, HBO) recounts the personal stories of three young lawyers, who, as part of the Southern Public Defender Training Center – now known as Gideon’s Promise – help make “justice for all” a reality while working to revolutionize the way Americans thinks about indigent defense.
Spies of Mississippi (2014, PBS) investigates the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC), a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain white supremacy during the 1950s and 1960s. Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper (2015, Discovery) follows programs in Chicago, Baltimore, and California that’re working to answer President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper challenge, striving to help boys and young men of color reach their full potential.
Porter’s most recent film, Trapped, won a Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking at its Sundance Film Festival world premiere earlier this year. Trapped focuses on the Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health versus Hellerstedt (formerly Cole). The case stems from a challenge to a Texas law, House Bill 2, which caused more than half of the abortion clinics in Texas to close. These Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, referred to as “TRAP” laws by reproductive rights advocates, effectively limit access to abortion services, especially for women living at, or under, the poverty line, who are frequently of color.
According to the film’s press release, “TRAP laws masquerade as regulations designed to protect women’s health, but in fact have a singular purpose: to ban abortion by saddling clinics with onerous regulations that are exceedingly difficult and costly to satisfy. Trapped follows the plaintiff and legal team leading the case, as well as the struggles of the clinic workers and lawyers fighting to keep abortion safe and legal for millions of American women…”
Porter was in Jackson, Mississippi shooting a film in 2013 when she noticed an article in the local newspaper about the last abortion clinic in the state. “I could not believe I was reading the article correctly; could there really be just one abortion clinic left in the entire state? I called the clinic and asked if I could come over and meet its director. Until that day, I had never been in an abortion clinic, not even to accompany friends who had the procedure.”
Porter was anxious and afraid as she made her way through a knot of protestors in front of the clinic to meet with Dr. Willie Parker and the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic staff and clients. “I felt ashamed at all the things I learned during our meeting; so many things that had never before crossed my mind. I learned about the hundreds of regulations in effect across America that restrict access to abortion services.”
Trapped follows the providers – male and female, black and white – who powerfully express their passionate commitment to ensuring abortion access to women, and poignantly explain their predicaments. The maps, statistics, and other information shown in the documentary provide easily accessible context, exposing an important story that many Americans may not be aware of.
“Over the course of making this film I witnessed what I truly believe is not only a threat to abortion access, but also a threat to our democratic ideals,” said Porter. “States passing laws that flagrantly disregard the constitutional protections set forth in Roe v. Wade are not just a challenge to abortion access, they are a challenge to the rules of our democracy. While I’ve seen things that are frightening, like harassment and threats, I’ve also seen what real courage looks like. Despite this incredibly hostile environment, doctors and support staff at abortion clinics across America are refusing to give up. Their determination and resilience are what inspired me to create this film.”
Trapped will be broadcast on PBS in June 20.