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Review: California's history of forced sterilization revealed in 'Belly of the Beast'

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Kelli Dillon and Cynthia Chandler at hearing in Erika Cohn's documentary "Belly of the Beast" (Photo: Idle Wild Films)

Belly of the Beast
3.5 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Erika Cohn
Genre: Documentary

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: A look at the illegal, forced sterilizations that were performed on inmates in California prisons.

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Review: The first act of “Belly of the Beast” takes viewers on a brief journey through the history of eugenics in California. We’re told that Nazi scientist came to California to study America’s eugenics program. They were particularly interested in sterilizations. A little research reveals that numerous states had compulsory sterilization programs, California’s was just the most prolific.

But that was the past, right?

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Erika Cohn’s documentary focuses primarily on Kelli Dillon, a woman who was sterilized without consent while incarcerated in a California correctional facility in 2001. She was 24 years old. It also highlights the efforts of Cynthia Chandler, a founder of Justice Now, as she fights for the rights of the women inmates.

The second half of the film leads us through public meetings, court battles and the general fallout that came in 2013. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, a lot of people weren’t upset. In fact, social media endorsed the idea of forced sterilization. A particular news organization was more interested in knowing how these women were getting pregnant.

I’d like to tell you that “Belly of the Beast” has a happy ending. I don’t know what that ending could possibly be. It is, however, a wakeup call and a rally cry.

“Belly of the Beast” opens in virtual cinemas on 10/16/20. Visit https://www.bellyofthebeastfilm.com/watch for a list of theaters near you.

On 11/23/20 the film will be available as part of the PBS Independent Lens program at https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/