The Lessons of the Boondock Saints and Tanya Lewis Lee

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by Courtroom Mama


I recently took a vacation from the internet. It was nice because, apart from letting me do things with my non-kid time like going to the gym so my preschooler can stop asking me if “there’s a baby in there,” I got to step back for a moment and look at things from a perspective other than that of the bloggy echo chamber. Two things that I did that ended up having a surprising connection:

  1. Watched “The Boondock Saints” for probably the fifteenth time, and
  2. At Jill’s suggestion, finally saw Tonya Lewis Lee’s 2009 documentary, “Crisis in the Crib: Saving Our Nation’s Babies”

I know, right? But hang with me for a moment. For those who haven’t seen these movies: the former is a quirky shoot-em-up action film about a pair of Irish twins (pun intended, I’m sure) who bring vigilante justice to South Boston, the latter is a documentary about the crisis of infant mortality in the black community by Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of director Spike Lee, for the Office of Minority Health’s Healthy Baby Begins with You Campaign.

The lightbulb went off in the beginning of the movie (transcript below)

Monsignor: And I am reminded, on this holy day, of the sad story of Kitty Genovese. As you all may remember, a long time ago, almost thirty years ago, this poor soul cried out for help time and time again, but no person answered her calls. Though many saw, no one so much as called the police. They all just watched as Kitty was being stabbed to death in broad daylight. They watched as her assailant walked away. Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.

Connor: I do believe the monsignor’s finally got the point.

Murphy: Aye.

I have to admit that I put off seeing “Crisis in the Crib” for a long time. Because I knew it would be sad? Because I fancied myself some sort of expert on the issue? Because it seems so far away from my own experience? Who knows. But when Jill sent me a Google Blog Search for “Crisis in the Crib,” my heart stopped for a moment: nearly none of the blogs that I read had covered it. 

We’re not talking “my indie film video store doesn’t carry Braveheart.” We’re talking about the very set of people who should be writing about infant mortality—mostly birthy blogs, feminist blogs, and mothering blogs—didn’t mention the film.  Sure, there were some; for example, Elita at Blacktating did a quick hit as a part of her Happy Black Girl Day list of “black girls who understand the importance of birth autonomy, breastfeeding and natural parenting.” I don’t read All the Blogs in the World, and maybe I’m not reading the “right” stuff, but it makes me sad to know that I have 1000+ unread items in my Google Reader, probably 3/4 of those about birth or mothering, and none of them will have mentioned the film.

I know that on its face this looks like a classic example of the anti-feminist trope, “Why are you concentrating on X when Y is so much more important?” Nevertheless, the issues are so intertwined that it seems almost disingenuous to call one a crisis without acknowledging the other.

I’m thinking back to a couple of reports that came out within the last six months: Amnesty International’s “Deadly Delivery” and the other a report on maternal mortality in California. Both of them revealed breathtaking defects in our maternity care system, and upped the volume on a meme that is one of my pet peeves: “it is more dangerous to give birth here than it is in [insert country].”

Setting aside for a moment the Americocentrism (what’s the matter with Slovakia, anyway?), I think that many of us birth bloggers are guilty of some tone deafness. The maternal and infant mortality rates are not borne equally across races.

Here is the most recent data from Shelby County, TN, where much of the film was set:

It’s like the white babies are born in the U.S., and the black babies are born in a whole other place (the CIA Factbook 2010 projections say the Solomon Islands). Here, more than anywhere else, it is clear that there are two Americas.

Watching “Crisis in the Crib,” I could see the water I swim in for a moment and realized that I sometimes have “birth blinders” on.  I care so much about unnecessary interventions and evidence-based care that it’s tempting to look at our flagging position in rank for maternal and infant health and say “see! It’s the unnecesareans and the pitocin and the EFM!” But the truth, as the documentary shows, is more complicated. The truth is a story that is so big and so awful that it crushes blogs under its tires and we can’t look at it for fear of turning to stone: we live in a nation where the legacy of slavery and segregation is a permanent invisible underclass.  Mothers and babies are dying, and I, for one, am not caring enough about it.

So here is my challenge to you (yes, you!) to change that sorry Google Blog Search with a mini blog carnival. If you haven’t seen the film already, you can watch it here in WMV firmat. It’s just about half an hour long, so you can watch it while you’re nursing or folding laundry or plotting to take over the world.  Then write a blog post about any aspect of the film or the topic that tickles your fancy. Comment to this post with a link to your post (or any post you’ve previously written about the movie) by July 2, and on July 4, I’ll repost our favorite along with links to all submissions.

Happy writing!