Leona's Sister Gerri
Andrea S. Walsh Women's Studies, Harvard University
Pamela Kress, Loras College
Leona's Sister Gerri is a riveting documentary for all adults, no matter what their stance on abortion. It begins with a shocking photograph that many will have seen before of a naked woman lying face down in a pool of blood on a motel room floor. She died in 1964 after a botched abortion administered by her lover, nine years before Roe v. Wade. The woman's family did not see this police photo until it appeared in the April 1973 issue of Ms. magazine--unidentified, the photo was captioned simply "Never Again." Here, we learn in heartbreaking detail who Gerri Santoro was--pretty, plump, a loyal friend, a fiercely protective mother of two daughters, and a terrified wife of an abusive man whose imminent arrival after separation drove her to desperate measures. Thirty years later, grief still overwhelms her sister, daughters, and friends. Initially angry at the publication of the brutal photo, Gerri's sister Leona was finally compelled to appear at a prochoice rally holding an enlargement labeled "This was my sister." Skillfully and sensitively produced, this video puts a human face on a highly politicized issue.
Leona's Sister Gerri, tells the story of one woman, Gerri Santoro, a woman who would become a symbol for the burgeoning abortion rights movement during the late 1960s. Found dead on a motel room floor, the victim of a botched abortion attempt, Gerri Santoro was photographed by the police--bloodied towel in hand, naked and slumped forward on her hands and knees. That haunting, stark picture later found its way into an influential article in Ms. and was plastered on placards in pro-choice rallies across the U.S. Filmmaker Jane Gillooly draws on interviews with Santoro's sister Leona Gordon, Santoro's adult daughters, other friends and relatives, and women's rights activists to deliver a powerful biography of a woman driven to a desperate act in a society that offered no alternatives. In Santoro's complicated situation (unbeknownst to her estranged and physically abusive husband, Gerri was pregnant by another man; suddenly her husband wrote to say he'd be returning home), tragedy would have been the result either way she chose, unless she'd had the alternative of a safe abortion. A powerful piece of filmmaking that places a human face on a continually divisive issue. Highly recommended.
In 1964, 27-year-old Gerri Santoro died alone in a Connecticut motel room, the victim of a botched abortion. With help from family photographs and home movies, Santoro's older sister, Leona, recalls her sister's life and the circumstances that led to the abortion. Santoro's brother, grown daughters, and childhood friend also reflect on Gerri's foolhardy decision to allow her unskilled, nonmedical boyfriend to attempt the crude abortion. Footage of Leona slowly flipping through old photographs or reading a letter from the victim's abusive, estranged husband further personalize this tragedy as does a symbolic photograph of Santoro lying dead in a crouched position. Other dramatic production techniques include slow camera pans of the motel where the abortion took place and interviews with former motel employees and journalists. This searingly provocative portrait paints the victim as a caring, hardworking mother who took drastic measures to end an unwanted pregnancy. Although the underlying message is pro-choice, this compelling documentary is sure to touch all audiences of all persuasions. * Outstanding