TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! The various stories involving abortion rights present in On the Divide are only a sampling of what many women face when dealing with such an embattled issue. Co-writers/directors Leah Galant and Maya Cueva present real and insightful messages from people who have something uplifting to share. Women’s reproductive rights are facing unprecedented challenges in ways many may not know, especially in Texas. The right to an abortion has changed in the state of Texas, now more restricted than ever, teetering on felony charges harking to the days of pre-Roe v. Wade.
The film follows three Latinx residents of McAllen, Texas, connected by the Whole Woman’s Health Clinic, which is the only clinic in the Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of the state bordering Mexico. Over several years, the filmmakers follow Rey, a security guard for the clinic, Mercedes, a mother of two who was previously a gang member and becomes a religious pro-life supporter, and Denisse, a volunteer safe escort at the clinic, who is also a mother of four. Through the eyes and work of these three people, a perspective is gained, especially in a border-town community, which suffers from poverty and addiction, all of which is veiled by fervent religiosity.
No matter their devotion to faith or their stance on abortion, all three embody intense evocations and convictions, which are deeply embedded in their lives. Even though they may not be supported and become victims of abuse and aggravation due to their positions, the struggle is real. On the Divide is a slice of what is happening around reproductive rights on the ground. As an experienced and aging security guard, Rey protects women who enter the clinic while having to fend off a brazen and ever-present pro-life community whose constant protesting at the clinic is unnerving and bizarre. He is on the frontline of safety and community service, which is not only breached by pro-life demonstrators, but he is also a victim by association. Yet, he will not abandon his Catholic faith nor the women he cares about at the clinic. His pro-choice support is unfailing.
“Women’s reproductive rights are facing unprecedented challenges in ways many may not know…”
Mercedes struggles with addiction, trying to reform her life from being a former gang member, raising kids in an abusive situation, and on the never-ending cycle of addiction and abuse, which has landed her on both sides of the abortion conflict. Her evolution presents an interesting perspective on the pro-life charge of the clinic and within her own life.
To fill the triangle of viewpoints, Denisse and others who volunteer at the clinic tirelessly work to present the right to abortion most intelligently and purposefully, eyeing every opportunity for their voices to be heard. These efforts do not go unnoticed, but Texas legislation continually knocks down and oppresses women’s reproductive rights, especially in the Trump era.
The filmmakers raise the question of one’s faith versus existing in a world where fair representation appears to be of little interest when it comes to survival. Why does a security guard have to take a hit for protecting women? How can addiction be treated when poverty and abuse are rampant? How does one fight a state government that does not acknowledge women’s rights? These questions and many more come to mind when watching On the Divide, as the choice to life is not just a problem in a barrio in a Texas border town where people are barely surviving. It is a nationwide struggle.
On the Divide screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…filmmakers raise the question of one's faith versus existing in a world where fair representation appears to be of little interest..."