Film Review: Amá
By Jaq Tesch
"Amá" is an incredibly informative film that goes into depth about a serious topic the majority of individuals are ignorant to.
Amá means mother in Navajo, the very thing many women were robbed of, the opportunity to be to a child they would want in the future. This documentary brings light to the fact that a wide variety of women in the various Native American populations had been sterilized in the past and continued to be sterilized as an act initiated by the government in the 1960’s, specifically listening to one woman’s life journey as a Native woman who experienced this.
The woman starring in the film is Jean Whitehorse, she shares not only the story of her nonconsensual sterilization but also the numerous initiatives that were taken by the U.S. government against the Natives, many of which she experienced.
Some of her stories include one when she was a child and forced to go away to boarding school with her older brother and another at the age nineteen. The audience also learns that Native Americans had been given English names, but not ones chosen by themselves or by their parents; for example, Jean had been given her name from the nurse who helped her mother give birth in the delivery room.
The sterilization was against the consent of the woman it was being done to; often times being asked while they were in labor via cesarean section or only moments before another major surgery. For Jean, the audience learns that she wanted children and had been trying to get pregnant. Jean learned during a doctor visit that at some point in an emergency appendix operation due to a terrible infection she had about a year prior, she had been also been sterilized and could no longer have any more children. She only had one daughter, but dreamed of having four or five children. These women also thought that they were alone, thus never spoke about it to one another.
This sterilization has been detrimental to the growth, happiness, and the system of beliefs that the Native Americans possess as well as cause a strain in many relationships that often caused or lead to substance abuse problems. In Navajo tradition and beliefs, children are the highest forms of wealth and even the word for children means “they too are sacred”. Due to the sterilization, it is mentioned that there are tribes who are going extinct.
Amá has a website where you can learn more about the issues, the film, the filmmakers, and even sign the petition to help get the US Government to apologize to all of the women in the past 50 + years they have harmed.
Amá, directed by Lorna Tucker, premiered in London on December 6th, 2018 and has had a handful of screenings in the 8 weeks since.
The film will be shown during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Thursday, February 7 from 5:00 - 6:13 pm and Friday, February 8 from 12:00 - 1:13 pm. Learn more about this film and purchasing tickets at sbiff.org.