Planned Parenthood’s Alencia Johnson on how Hollywood can help highlight critical issues facing women
Hollywood is finally seeing more Black women in positions of power who are working hard to tell our stories in an authentic and impactful way. These stories are crucial to amplifying real-life issues affecting our communities. TheGrio caught up with Alencia Johnson, Director of public engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America to find out how Hollywood can help highlight critical issues we are facing right now.
“How do you show people being human and making good decisions for themselves that hopefully shift the mindset of the broader culture to trust women? Part of that comes from the representations put forth, particularly of Black women who are empowered and educated and know what’s right for themselves and their bodies,” Alencia Johnson told TheGrio in an exclusive interview. “We have to give opinions and talk about how reproductive health care changes people’s lives. Just because you don’t see the bill in Congress doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways that this administration can actually take action and block care.”
According to Johnson, everyone can benefit from real women telling their stories, whether they call their Congressman or speak up on social media.
“We want people to make their voices heard and share their personal stories of how they’ve been impacted by reproductive health care,” she says. “Having reproductive health care is literally me having control over my body. And in a country in a world where so many things are being taken away from Black folks, healthcare shouldn’t be one of them.”
Alencia Johnson and Planned Parenthood kicked off this conversation at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “Our Bodies, Our Stories: A Celebration of Unstoppable Black Women in TV and Film” at The MACRO Lodge at Sundance featured a panel including filmmakers Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) and Dawn Porter (Trapped) and discussed why we need more stories about bodily autonomy.
“We’re at a critical time in our nation. We already know the alarming rates of breast cancer and maternal mortality facing Black women. To make this more real, a studyfound that 40 percent of Black women can not afford more than $10 for birth control. This is a crisis,” Johnson said during the event. “In order to protect and advance policies that support our lives as Black women, we need more stories about our nuanced experiences. And that’s why we joined forces with MACRO to celebrate and deepen our work with Black women filmmakers.”
Topics ranged from the need to tell stories about Black women in the South who often struggle to access safe, legal abortion to the emotional toll many Black woman carry. The panelists also discussed how to humanize women of color on screen so that they’re not just defined by their race and gender.
“I believe art is supposed to instigate change and move the conversation forward,” said Chinonye Chukwu, director of the film Clemency, featuring Alfre Woodard and Danielle Brooks. “I’m interested in creating unique, engaging stories with Black women at the center that are navigating stories and arcs that are about more than just their race and gender.”
Planned Parenthood is proud to work closely with arts and entertainment leaders — including film, television, and video professionals — to help develop stories that center people of color and content that is accurate and sensitive in its depictions of sexual and reproductive health. Through more realistic and honest portrayals of people’s lives, the entertainment community can help challenge stigma and change the conversation on issues like abortion, birth control, and sexually transmitted infections.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.