Here’s a better question: when was the last time you watched a documentary that actually tried to initiate a conversation between you and its topic, without the writers, directors and producers attempting to manipulate your opinion towards their own? And when was the last time that you watched a documentary on a specific public issue that really exemplified the diversity of the people that the issue affects? I'm betting that neither are common, and though a new documentary above-and-beyond exceeds these standards, that's only part of the reason why you need to watch Breastmilk.
Produced by Dana Ben-Ari, Ricki Lake and Abbi Epstein, this fascinating documentary works to desensitize our over-sexualized minds and really start a conversation about something that’s definitely thought of as a “women’s” issue: breastfeeding.
Should a woman breastfeed? Is the science behind breast milk and its attributes positive, or is the breast milk vs. formula argument a cyclical force that will continue to move through generations? Are all women capable of breast-feeding? How does the perspective of medical professionals affect a woman and her partner’s choice to breast feed or use formula? Why is breast-feeding so offensive? Should it be allowed in public, and if not, why? And most importantly, why has the mother of today become an asexual figure that is neither desirous nor erotic, and how does this further fragment the identity of a woman, forcing her to choose between erotic appeal and maternal figure? Can she ever be both? (my answer: f*ck yeah!)
(Above: Behind the scenes photo for a video montage of boobies in action)
The documentary is designed as a fluid conversation between real life moms (and dads) of all colors, sexualities, body types, economic statuses, occupations and personalities as well as scientists, midwives, breast feeding counselors and doctors. Wherever the mothers express their opinions, a scientist either discusses the issue raised and refutes the mother’s point or reframes the problems she and her partner have encountered in a different context. You, as the viewer, are never forced to say “Yes! YOU ARE RIGHT!” or “No, this is wrong, why am I even watching this?” You are provided with all the information, all of the points of view, and all of the options needed to genuinely feel more educated than you were when you started the film -- which is what all documentaries should be, but not how most of them turn out. Incidentally, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous.
In the first four minutes of the film, you’re presented with the image of a woman breast pumping; it’s a close-up of her nipple being pushed and pulled with the suction of the pump and films the flow of milk slowly dripping into a container. My reaction to the cinematography when I first saw it is the reason why I feel so strongly about as many people seeing this film as possible. While I was watching this, I started noticing my anxiety levels rise, my face was getting hot. I kept trying to look away from the scene, and I tried to understand why I was feeling this way -- especially considering that I have boobs and given the amount of nudity on every show I watch. And that’s when I realized that I had never actually seen a breast (up close and personal) being used in a way that wasn’t for sexual pleasure, and then I started getting pissed off. Had the male gaze really affected me so much that I was grossed out by footage of a woman feeding her child, because the boob was in a baby’s mouth instead of some creepy bald porn actor? The answer was a resolute yes, and as someone who actively refutes the male gaze, my rage could not be contained. I watched the rest of the film with an attentiveness that could have rivaled Hermione Granger in her last class before any end-of-term exam.
I don’t want to spoil anything for you, because I strongly feel that this is the kind of film that needs to be experienced organically: you can’t be influenced by anyone else’s opinion because it won’t affect your views of the issue in the way it should. But I will say that I learned more from this film about breastfeeding, the multiple stigmas that follow women and the choices they make with or without their partners regarding feeding their children, than I ever did from conversations with friends, women in my family and school combined. (Did you know that there are glands in your breasts that emit a scent that is familiar to newborns so that they'll be more compelled to latch when they breast feed? Why wasn't I taught that in my high school health class?!)
BREASTMILK is now playing at the IFC Center in New York, and opens May 16 with Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles. To request a screening/check what's available in your area, click here, and don't forget to check out the trailer, below.
Images via breastmilkthemovie.com and Cynthia van Elk