Film Review: Netflix Documentary ‘Reversing Roe’ Hits Hard Early, But Stumbles At Times

To say Roe v. Wade continues to be one of the landmark cases in Supreme Court history would be an understatement. For thirty years, the debate has created a real divide between the right and the left. Despite this, many in America do not understand the origins of the fight or its history. With this in mind, Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg took a deep dive into the history of the right to choose. In the process, they bring out many of the strong proponents of reversing the decision, creating an interesting Netflix documentary that loses some steam on the way.

“Reversing Roe” focuses most of the attention in the film through the state of Texas. In Texas, the fight to overturn Roe has become a streetfight in deciding the future of the law. Clips depicting Governor Rick Perry make it clear where the right stands on the issue. He is juxtaposed by State Senator Wendy Davis, whose filibuster in 2013 made headlines across the country. Over the course of the film, we also receive insights into the history of the fight and the rhetoric that has divided the nation.

Stern and Sundberg deliver excellent testimony on each side of the debate. Rather than put their direct opinion into the film through narration, they let each side of the debate speak their truth. Feminists, including Gloria Steinem, doctors who run clinics which offer abortions, and women’s rights activists lend the voice to the Pro-Choice movement. Meanwhile, various lobbyists and politicians showcase the pro-life arguments, often explaining how they use emotionally driven tactics to alter the debate.

It’s a shocking juxtaposition to lay out the real stakes in the debate. On one side, women and their allies believe in the right to choose. They believe in the right to live their life and have the freedom to make their choices. It is a compelling case that showcases emotion. However, the pro-life movement seems to bring an intensity to their one issue that feels all-consuming. These one issue voters can be scary to listen to, often bringing a rage that does not seem to exist on the other side. This anger colors the debate and gives the film an easy stance to take.

“Reversing Roe” begins with an intensity and momentum that feels nearly impossible to keep up. Seemingly styled after features like “The 13th” and “Dirty Money,” there is a lot to like. Sadly, the pace becomes unsustainable as it dives into the history of the political parties. At times, Stern and Sundberg recapture the energy, especially in the emotional moments. The anger felt by the right is palpable, which could easily become cartoonish. Even more impressive, it becomes commonplace in the narrative.

“Reversing Roe” realizes the stakes at hand in the debate. Throughout the film, we see how the original Roe decision slowly lost pieces of its power. Over the years, various states have passed laws chipping away at the rights it instilled. Other state laws have gone into effect that eliminate or squeeze out clinics that offer abortion services. The Supreme Court shifts power, and new justices are added to the court. As it closes out on the Trump era, “Reversing Roe” stresses the importance of the upcoming debate, a debate we now know circles around Brett Kavanaugh. The emotion and urgency proves the importance of this fight.

For those who do not understand the debate on Roe v. Wade, “Reversing Roe” will be an incredible tool. Many of those who need a push to get involved in the political process should see this movie. While the pacing becomes uneven at times, Netflix has another strong documentary on its hands. It does not rise to the heights of “The 13th” or “Dirty Money,” but should be a must watch in the run-up to election day. Stern and Sundberg prove to be strong directors and should get many opportunities in the future. Keep an eye on this one as a potential shortlist contender for the Oscar.

Watch “Reversing Roe” now on Netflix.  

GRADE: (★★★)

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