Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development
The actual cases and two films examined in this essay challenge stock narratives of mothers who deny or conceal unwanted pregnancy as a monster, or a victim, and also challenge "legal norms, logic and structures" pertaining to unwanted pregnancy and neonaticide. This essay draws on films because of their influential power to "reach enormous audiences by combining narratives and appealing characters with visual imagery and technological achievement, ... stir deep emotions and leave deep impressions." For these reasons, Orit Kamir asserts that films are more compelling than "theoretical legal texts or even judicial rhetoric."
The two films examined -- Stephanie Daley and Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. -- challenge social and legal norms, and provide insight into "society's dominant cultural formations" and the way "society narrates and creates itself," specifically with respect to unwanted pregnancy. Neither film offers an upbeat representation such as that found in Juno, in which a teenager accepts her pregnancy and makes an adoption plan. Instead, both Stephanie Daley and Just Another Girl on the LR.T. depict the more harrowing narrative of teenagers who do not accept pregnancy, but conceal or deny it, and then abandon or kill the newborn. These films dramatize stories Hollywood "dare[s] not to do."
Hilary Brougher explained that in writing Stephanie Daley she wanted to ''open up events that we are accustomed to dealing with in the media in an emotionally charged yet superficial way -- and rather than delivering a verdict about it, open up the gray areas for discussion." Why do these girls kill newborns? Why didn't anyone realize they were pregnant? How should they be punished?
This essay examines these questions through the lens of Kamir's three critical perspectives: cinematic parallels, cinematic judgments, and cinematic jurisprudence. Kamir first points out that films may parallel culture and the legal system. These cinematic parallels "reflect and refract the fundamental values, images, notions of identity, lifestyles and crises of their societies and cultures." Second, films may judge or invite judgment. Cinematic judgments include ways in which films "actively perform judgment and engag[e] viewers in cinematic judging acts." Finally, films may "elicit popular jurisprudence" into many different issues, including "women's roles as mothers."
St. John's University School of Law