SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! June 25, 2013. That morning saw an abortion proposal threaten to take away many rights of the women living in Texas. Senator Wendy Davis had different plans, however. On that day, Senator Davis filibustered the hearing for 13 hours, continuing to talk and stand, refusing to take a break in order to defend the millions of women living in the Lone Star State. Director Gretchen Stoeltje’s Shouting Down Midnight is the story of Senator Davis and her supporters as they do all that they can to stop the abortion proposal from becoming law.
Here I sit in my New Jersey classroom on the morning when the school mask mandate was lifted. While having to wear a mask is nowhere near the level of telling a woman that they can’t get an abortion, the parallel between the two events cannot be overlooked. The reality is that in each of these scenarios, a group of people are being told what they can and cannot do, and I think the fact that I happened to watch this documentary on the same day that the mask requirement was lifted opened my eyes and allowed me to better appreciate what it’s saying.
“…Senator Davis filibustered the hearing for 13 hours…”
There’s an interesting aspect present, even if unintentionally. As Senator Davis filibusters the hearing, the faces of the onlookers behind her change drastically as time passes. You can see the frustration mounting, their attitudes changing, and, honestly, it’s funny. Of course, we all know that abortion isn’t funny, and it’s not a topic to be handled lightly, and Stoeltje successfully expresses how severe the consequences of this proposal are. However, there is some humor in watching the supporters crammed into the government building, and their patience wear as the hours pass. It works to add levels of emotion and relevance to the proceedings.
Shouting Down Midnight is a political documentary that initially aims to fight for what’s right but quickly shifts to something far more divisive. There’s no way around omitting the political agenda, as that is its focus. Somewhere around the 25-minute mark, I was turned off after I had become invested in Senator Davis’s mission. Interestingly I think that this is still a good documentary, even when it steps over the line. It’s powerful and reaches its intended audience, but I think the director should want to connect to everyone with a topic like this. By ostracizing certain groups of people, you take some power away, and the potential audience shrinks significantly as a result.
The topic of abortion is one that will never come to an end, but Stoeltje needs to ensure that everyone watching the film will be educated on it. It’s alright to be aggressive in this situation, but dividing viewers even further, rather than simply educating them, strains their ability to absorb the information and apply it appropriately. Shouting Down Midnight is relevant, eye-opening, and knows what it wants to be. But drawing such a prominent line in the political sands silences the voices of those involved to some degree.
Shouting Down Midnight screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.