‘AKA Jane Roe’ Review: Documentary Fails to Let Its Subject Find Her Voice

In 1973 Texas cleaning woman Norma McCorvey became the most famous woman in America when her attempt to obtain an abortion became the impetus for the court case known as Roe v. Wade. The case is one that everyone has an opinion on and it is near impossible to divorce personal feelings from a given work, whether that be a book or documentary on the subject. So director Nick Sweeney’s attempt at neutrality with his documentary “AKA Jane Roe” is admirable, but at times impossibly baffling.

“AKA Jane Roe” sells itself as an attempt for Jane Roe herself, McCorvey, to set the record straight about her life. McCorvey was a poor woman who’d already had a child, had a second on the way (through rape, she claimed), and became the face of the biggest court case to affect women since the 19th Amendment. After that, she became a born again Christian, working with the controversial pro-life group Operation Rescue, and proclaimed abortion a sin. Sweeney’s lens appears to be: Where does the truth lie? Who is Norma McCorvey and what are her true feelings about abortion?

I say abortion because there’s hardly any insight into McCorvey’s life. The doc, clocking in at a little over an hour, gives a cursory glimpse into her background. She ran away from home at the age of 10 with a girlfriend, only for the two to be discovered and McCorvey sent to a girl’s reformatory for being a lesbian. McCorvey is brash and unrepentant, giggling and laughing to herself about the amount of boobs in the reformatory, an ironic bit of humor that this presumed punishment did nothing to change her sexual preferences.

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And Sweeney’s camera is always focused on showing us who Norma is versus how she is perceived by others. It’s hard to fathom an old woman who spends her days coloring — her walls caked in colored pictures of gardens and birds — to be the face and voice of a movement that inspires such anger and hostility. And yet, Sweeney and crew never actively push McCorvey to answer anything tough. For a documentary touting itself as having McCorvey’s last interview — she died in 2017 — there’s no active instigation from the interviewer, although we hear him push other interview subjects.

Case in point, the revelation that McCorvey lied about being raped back in the early 1970s. Considering the rampant rape culture that still tells women not to come forward with allegations, it’s frustrating (and nearly irresponsible) for no to ask McCorvey why she did that and how she feels that rape culture today continues to not believe women who are attacked because of false claims like hers.

Maybe Sweeney’s intention is to perpetuate McCorvey as a liar and charlatan, and she certainly is that. Members of the pro-choice movement discuss her being a manipulator, one who would easily act to get her own way — but there isn’t much pressure from anyone to discuss that. One former collaborator says McCorvey’s confession that the rape wasn’t true caused her to be pushed aside by the movement, but the film’s final moments seem to imply none of that mattered to McCorvey. Who’s story is this? The woman who played the world like a violin or the “friends” who were taken by her story?

And, make no mistake, “AKA Jane Roe” is a documentary where everyone is out for their own ends. If this isn’t McCorvey’s story, it’s at least the tale of how numerous people on both sides of the aisle profited off of McCorvey, her story, and the abortion movement. It is jarring to transition from McCorvey’s poignant tale of growing up poor and abused to Flip Benham, a brash pro-life activist, talking about traveling to an “abortion mill.”

Norma McCorvey

The documentary attempts to give a “both sides” look, showing the pro-life contingent, many of whom would be accused or cited for bombing abortion clinics throughout the 1980s with McCorvey, and the pro-choice advocates, who spoke in Washington D.C. If you know the history (or lived through it) there’s little new to see, at least until the final 20 minutes of the documentary when McCorvey outs herself as a huckster and another prominent pro-life reverend agrees that they exploited her. The saddest element to “AKA Jane Roe” is that McCorvey was little more than a pawn, regardless of how much agency she claimed to have had, and it’s even worse when she isn’t given her own chance to talk.

The final half of the documentary is probably where McCorvey herself speaks the most, but even then there isn’t much discussion short of her own participation in the dueling movements. There’s never discussion about her relationship with her daughter, Melissa, who was taken by McCorvey’s mother because of McCorvey’s lesbianism. Maybe Melissa didn’t want to participate but that’s never mentioned, so she becomes a shadowy figure in her mother’s life.

There’s also never any discussion about McCorvey’s decision to give up her children for adoption. People might be surprised to realize that McCorvey, despite wanting an abortion that kicked off Roe v. Wade, ended up bearing another child. Those deep discussions into her life choices and her personality lay on the cutting room floor, if they were ever asked at all.

“AKA Jane Roe” starts with a fascinating story but fails to go deep into the mind of a woman who was constantly changing. One of the most significant figures in the 20th Century is divisive, but it would have been great to narrow the focus to her feelings about that divisiveness and not the people who profited.

Grade: C-

“AKA Jane Roe” airs on FX May 22.

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American Horror Story Boss Teases Rubber Man's Return in Season 10

Never has rubber made us feel so unsafe. American Horror Story mastermind Ryan Murphy on Sunday posted a cryptic tease on Instagram, suggesting that the infamous Rubber Man costume could be making an appearance in the FX anthology’s upcoming tenth season. Behold:

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From Murder House to Apocalypse, the iconic suit has been worn by a number of different actors throughout the seasons, including Evan Peters, Dylan McDermott, Zachary Quinto and Cody Fern. Of those names, however, only Peters is confirmed to be returning for Season 10.

Season 10 marks Peters’ return to the Horror Story fold following his absence for 1984. He’ll be joined by Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Evan Peters, Adina Porter, Lily Rabe, Angelica Ross, Finn Wittrock and AHS newbie Macaulay Culkin.

That long list of familiar names tracks with Murphy’s previous statements about his plans for Season 10. The milestone season is “about reuniting fan-favorite actors [who] helped build this show into what it is, who believed in it from the beginning.” (And you can’t deny that Rubber Man was there from the very beginning!)

Aside from fulfilling promises of a reunion, little is known about the overall theme of Season 10, save for a bizarre Instagram post Murphy shared last month. The image, which he captioned “Things are beginning to wash up on shore,” was of a strange creature climbing out of the water.

What are your hopes and predictions for American Horror Story‘s 10th installment? Drop a comment with your theories below.

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f(x) star Amber Liu pays tribute to Sulli on her birthday

Amber Liu has paid tribute to her former f(x) bandmate on what would have been her 26th birthday.

K-pop star Sulli was found dead at her home in Sujeon-gu last year.

The singer, real name Choi Jin-ri, was in SM Entertainment girl band f(x) from 2009 until 2015 alongside Amber, Victoria, Luna and Krystal.

On her birthday Amber shared old pictures of them together along with the message: ‘Our Ssul, happy birthday. I’ll do my best.’

She added on her Instagram story: ‘My little sister, rest well.’

Some of the pictures Amber posted showed the two of them having fun together on a boat, staring out across the water and smiling at the camera wearing wetsuits.

With her Twitter photos the singer added the caption: ‘Let’s hang out again, my little sister. Happy birthday.’

A memorial was held for Sulli at Shinchin Severance Hospital following her death, where fans paid their respects.

Sulli had been open about her struggles with trolling, having left f(x) on hiatus in 2014 due to the malicious comments she was receiving online.

A year later, in August 2015, Sulli confirmed she was leaving the group for good.

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