00:00:13 – Asha Dahya
Welcome to the rePROFilm podcast, I’m your host Asha Dahya, back with another thought-provoking conversation with some incredible talented filmmakers who take us into the intersecting worlds of reproductive justice and the environment.

The ways in which climate policies and environmental justice impact our ability to have control over our reproductive lives is a conversation that needs to be heard loud and clear, and I am thankful for the opportunity to use our platform to do so. In fact, there IS no reproductive justice without climate justice, and many Black and Brown women leaders have been talking about this for years, because marginalized communities are often located in areas with pollution and lack of access to clean air and water. LaTricea Adams, cofounder of BlackMillenials 4 Flint, an organization that focuses on work around lead exposure throughout the country, proposes an honest question regarding the fight for reproductive justice, ”If the womb, the first environment, is not protected, what is life?”

An article by the NorthCarolinaBlackAlliance outlines numerous harmful impacts that pregnant people are at risk of due to poor environmental health and contaminants. These include:

  • Lead* exposure which results in lower fertility rates and a higher risk of stillbirth
  • Fracking* which is connected to higher rates of preterm birth and congenital heart defects
  •  PFAS chemicals (commonly found in drinking water) which can decrease fertility and increase blood pressure in pregnant people
  • Extreme heat and wildfire smoke which lead to poor pregnancy outcomes

Since April 22 is Earth Day, we thought we would focus on the issue of environmental justice, by showcasing a powerful new film called ‘Black Madonna’ from filmmakers Morgan Jerkins and Zora Schiltz Rouse. Morgan is a New York Times bestselling author and National Magazine Award winning journalist based in New York City. Zora is a producer and director who has worked on FX shows for Ryan Murphy, and currently works at the production company Color Force, whose “Clipped” will air on Hulu this June.

‘Black Madonna’ stars Franchesca Ramsey as the main character Aziza, who is a climate justice activist living in a deteriorating neighborhood of Los Angeles. Aziza finds herself at a crossroads when she discovers she is pregnant.

This film leaves the audience with so much food for thought when it comes to how the environment impacts our reproductive lives, coupled with the intersection of race and socio-economic status. As Aziza has to grapple with her current situation, she also comforts a fellow climate activist who is struggling to get pregnant, alluding to the potential impact of a polluted environment on her fertility.

I learned so much from both Morgan and Zora, who were just a delight to talk to, not only about their advocacy around the environmental issue, but also, art, creativity, and the reality of what it takes to make a film. If you are a social impact filmmaker or interested in any way about how the media and on-screen narratives play a role in challenging the status quo, trust me when I say this conversation is for you.

00:03:56 – Asha Dahya
Zora and Morgan, welcome to the rePROFilm Podcast. It’s so lovely to be speaking with you both today.

00:04:02 Morgan Jerkins
Thank you. Really excited to be here.

00:04:05 Zora Schiltz Rouse
You as well, Asha

00:04:06 Asha Dahya
Zora, I know you’re in Paris as we speak, and I’m in LA. Morgan, where are you? in.

00:04:10 Morgan Jerkins
I’m in New York

00:04:11 Asha Dahya
I love this. This is the beauty of being remote and doing podcasts. So thank you all for your time today. Before we dive into the film, I’d love to know how you both met and what made you decide to work together and make this film?

00:04:28 Morgan Jerkins
Zoe and I met at Princeton. Ohh man.

00:04:34 Asha Dahya
Is this going right back now?

00:04:36 Morgan Jerkins
I’m still reminding myself that like I’m in my 30s now, so I’m like it was 10 years ago, but like it might have been 12 years ago. Yeah. So we met and I was a student at Princeton and Zora, you were born and raised in Princeton, right?

00:04:53 Zora Schiltz Rouse
I’m from Los Angeles, but my mom is at Princeton as a professor, so I grew up in Princeton. I had a lot of friends. That inevitably ended up at Princeton University, and they were mutuals we randomly met. It was like it was in passing.

00:05:18 Morgan Jerkins
We ended up reconnecting because I moved out to LA in the summer of 2021, and Zora reached out to me because we were like social media, Instagram mutuals. And then we hung out. So we went to Lemert Park, and she was with my first friends.

00:05:37 Morgan Jerkins
When I moved out to LA.

00:05:39 Zora Schiltz Rouse
That was a special day and that we had. Who was it that we saw? He passed away.

00:05:44 Morgan Jerkins
Michael K Williams RP. Yeah, and he was very, very kind and it was a really nice day.

00:05:50 Zora Schiltz Rouse
It was lovely. Yeah, that was special. I had moved back from the East Coast to LA for work in February 2020.

00:05:59 Asha Dahya
What a time.

00:06:00 Zora Schiltz Rouse
That was a terrible time to uproot and go across the country. But I don’t know. I just had. I’ve been following Morgan loosely on social media and seeing that she was local, I just felt really encouraged to, like reach out and just say hi and ask if you wanted to hang out. It felt very organic.

00:06:18 Asha Dahya
I love that. You’re both writers. You’ve both got experience in the film and TV world.

00:06:22 Morgan Jerkins
Zora has more experience than me in the film and TV world.

00:06:26 Zora Schiltz Rouse
And she has. I mean, an enormous amount of experience in the writing world that I do not have

00:06:31 Asha Dahya
I’m so impressed. I’m blown away. I mean, both of you, all the things you’ve achieved. I’m like, this is gonna be such a great conversation.

00:06:35 Zora Schiltz Rouse
Morgan has done some extraordinary things. Do you wanna touch on that?

00:06:40 Asha Dahya
Yeah, please do, Morgan, tell us.

00:06:43 Morgan Jerkins
You know, I’m like I’m really bad at magnifying myself. Well, I I published my first book. This will be mine doing, which was a personal essay collection in 2018. It became a New York Times bestseller. Since then I’ve published two other books: Water and strange lands, which is like narrative nonfiction and family history, and also tinged with travel logs in 2020 that I published my first novel in 2021, and I’m currently working on my 4th book, which is a novel right now. So I’ve been doing and writing bookwise. I’ve written on the Internet. Since I graduated from college, I’ve written for the Times ,The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, I’ve won two National Magazine award and I was a Forbes 30 under 30 Leader in media a couple years ago.

00:07:32 Asha Dahya
That is so incredible. Kudos to you like those are huge achievements and they deserve their own bit of air time in this podcast because I feel like as women as well, especially women of colour, we always feel like we’ve gotta cheat so much. But then we’re not allowed to talk about it. So this is the space to do it and amplify your work.

00:07:48 Morgan Jerkins
Thank you.

00:07:50 Asha Dahya
So well done. I mean, the New York Times bestseller. Hello. That’s huge. That’s, you know, that’s amazing.Well, tell me about the idea for Black Madonna. How did it come about? And and also tell me about the significance of the title

00:08:01 Morgan Jerkins
 I was an editor at multiple publications before. I remember that and I would see it at my job. And I would also read in my in my leisure time, a lot of women that were wondering if it was ethical to bring a child to this world given global warming, and they were always white women and that always bothered me for lack of a better word because I thought to myself well they’re not the most susceptible to violence, or erasure or lack of care. If anyone should be writing a lot of these stories, it should be black and brown women. When I moved to LA, I lived on the left side of LA. I lived probably right off Wilshire. I lived like 10 minutes, probably from Santa Monica beach. And I remember the apartment complex which I was living. We had a rooftop and there was this black man I was ruthlessly up there while I was hanging out. And he pointing to the mountains was trying to tell us about, you know, how you can tell if a fire is about to happen. Like just randomly just giving us these tips whenever I would drive around LA I I started to notice the difference and I noticed it a little bit when I was live in New York City, where I’m based now. I mean in Harlem it could be 80° and it can feel like 95, but then if you walk like 20 blocks to the South Upper East Side near the Guggenheim, it feels so much cooler. There’s less trash on the ground, there’s more trees, and there was actually evidence that said that it is actually hotter in places where the predominant black and brown neighborhoods. I started thinking about LA in general, for example, like, if you go, if you’re on the West side, you see a lot of parks.

You barely see any trash, a lot of recreation. But then if you go towards like Long Beach and Vernon and cars and all these other places, huge refineries, you can see them as soon as you’re driving on the freeway like they’re like these BMX structures.

Black people having like and black and brown people having these nicknames for certain towns and and and and and passageways in these towns that, you know, they said that, you know, that you get asthma like being there and I wanted to write a story about that. I wanted to write a story about, you know, what would it be like to be in a world, but particularly in one’s own world, where it’s already you already had a disadvantage in your life and has nothing to do with academics, has nothing to do with freshness. It’s just literally breathing. And how difficult that is and what would it be like to to bring in life into that or not so and and in terms of the the I think you asked the title you know could because so my my father’s Catholic and so I thought about like the madonnas like you know the the the Virgin Mary and it and it means. You know, like motherhood and I was like, you know, I thought about it. So several years ago, when I went to Montserrat in Spain, which is Benedictine monastery, and they had these black Madonna statues there, which I never even knew, there was religious iconography of black women. And so that really stayed with me because I thought, like, this is a story about Aziza and she’s just a regular girl, so to speak. But I think the cataclysm thick influence of bringing life into this world as a black woman is something that can’t be understated, and in fact it wasn’t until post production that I started to realize, like, what black blackness signified when you’re talking about the term black Madonna, that black blackness is considered fertility. It’s not considered evil. It’s considered a place of mystery and it’s a place that brings forth things so that that made the title feel even more like it was meant to happen on a cosmic level to to title the short film that way.


00:12:06 Asha Dahya
I love that back story to the title because it often holds so much significance that sometimes gets obscured by what we’re seeing or different conversations. So thank you for sharing that.

00:12:17 Morgan Jerkins
Yeah. I think it’s like I didn’t. I was first. I was worried cause I was like, I don’t. I’m worried that people gonna think this is like a religious… There’s religious subtext which there’s not. I actually liked the juxtaposition that you don’t know what religion Aziza is. You don’t know where her spirituality is. She’s just a regular black girl but that is still powerful in of itself because of all of these spiritual and immaterial implications on top of being pregnant.

00:12:52 Asha Dahya
Speaking of Aziza, I’m a huge fan of Francesca Ramsey, who plays your main character. I loved her nuanced performance in Black Madonna, can you talk about the process of casting her and why she was drawn to the story? How did she say yes?

00:13:06 Morgan Jerkins
I’ve always sort of navigated my career like where there’s a will there’s a way in life. to do is ask. You know Zora and I, we put out calls to people to audition. I asked Franchesca on a whim. Franchesca and I have been social media mutuals for years. Franchesca’s a comedian like her career, exploded because she did a video called Shit White Girls Say, and the rest was history. And I’ve always thought that comedians can make great dramatic actors. And so I reached out to her and I said, hey, I don’t know what you’re doing, but there’s this short film that I’m working on. We’re going to film this this week. Would you be interested? She said she’d audition, and she did. Then she got it. And me and Zora knew that we wanted to cast her right after it was done. We learned like a week before the reading that the story resonated with her in ways that we were not privy to. When we asked her. But it’s the same thing with her counterpart, Brandon Bell. Brandon Bell was on Dear White People, both the series and the film. I just DM’d them on Instagram. He did not follow me. I just said listen, this is who I am. This is the film I’m working on and a week or two later his agent reached out to me like: he’ll do it.

I’m still shocked to this day, it’s definitely something I brag about more than probably a lot of my accomplishments, but I think it made me feel happy. Not just for these two big names, but just for seeing the crew set up every single day at 7:00 in the morning and realizing that there are people that believe in the story you know and that that was really, really heartwarming.

00:15:02 Zora Schiltz Rouse
Casting is such an interesting… the more, the more I work in development, the more I can like I really take the craft of casting so much more seriously. I was watching this movie recently, but it’s in Argentinian female director and she apparently held auditions in her garage. I can’t remember her name. She held auditions in her garage and she saw upwards of 4000 people for her small film. I think it won best picture at Sundance in 2000. I think I underestimated how important getting the perfect ensemble together.

I’m really proud of the group that we cast. I think they were great together and especially the leads. They’re wonderful. I mean, like, I mean, sure, films are all about shooting your shot. And Morgan shot the shot and then she reached out to Brandon and Franchesca but it really is… You have to find.. It’s really hard to find chemistry between actors and I just wish, I think, in retrospect, I would have spent more time on casting. I really think it requires a lot of dedication, a lot of time. And like maybe working. Yeah. Just like doing chemistry reads. I love who we cast. But I think in retrospect, I just wish I kind of spent more time thinking about what that ensemble was going to look like, feeling really, like, really confident that we were hiring the right people. One thing that stood out to me and Morgan and we were chatting with some incredible actresses. Well, as the conversations continued, she and I recognize that we would prefer to cast somebody who wasn’t light skinned, I think that was a priority.

As a light skinned person, I find I’m like you know, I’m always kind of looking at who’s being cast, who’s like I’m becoming who’s popular. And there’s a lot of space in this industry for light skinned women. I don’t know. I feel like it’s, like, palatable to white studios with studio like it is, so I think it’s somewhere in the casting process. We both decided that we needed to represent. We needed to cast and represent differently. We needed to hire somebody who, like, didn’t necessarily have our complexion. Somebody’s look was, like, true to the story and the area that we were like the, like the, the, the geographical location that we were, we were trying to convey. So that was important in the casting process. Other than that, I just realized there was a real learning curve

00:17:40 Asha Dahya
I love that you talk about that intersectionality and the importance of casting and why you wanted to call someone who had darker skin and I’d love to talk about the intersectionality of the film in general. I mean, this is something we like to talk about every prior film as often as possible that reproductive justice and reproductive health is not just about abortion and birth control. There are so many other factors involved, including environmental issues and how that impacts our ability to make these decisions. Can you both talk about those two intersections, you know, making those reproductive decisions in an environment that is not healthy and you know those isn’t conducive to raising children in a healthy way?

00:18:28 Morgan Jerkins
I don’t personally believe you can extricate environmental issues from reproductive issues because, for example, if a mother is drinking polluted water, what is that gonna do to her system? What is that gonna do to the system of the baby that she’s housing? If she lives in an area where? She can see noxious fumes being pumped into the air because of a nearby refinery. What is that gonna do to her respiratory system? What is that gonna do to her? To her arteries? Right. If she lives in a food desert, what is that going to do to her strength? Right. All of these things matter. It’s and. And I’ll be honest with you, it’s not something that I thought about, but that I think that speaks to the privilege of that. Because I grew up in a suburban South Jersey neighborhood I lived in. I opened up my door and I could see a park. I always had, you know, clean water. So it’s being mindful and looking around and also…Urban planning is connected to environmental justice and reproductive justice because a lot of times you see black and brown neighborhoods, as we shown in the film, they’re near. They’re not only polluted air wise, they’re polluted noise wise, and that also causes stress that can also cause disorientation, right? That can also cause anxiety, which again, is harmful to not just anybody, but particularly to pregnant women or women that are trying to get pregnant.

Filming Black Madonna and even prior to Black Madonna just location scouting really made me become so aware of how cities are laid out, why certain structures are in certain neighborhoods and not in others. What type of deleterious effects are happening health wise here but not so much here? And this study and the studies are out there like anything that we spoke about that Jesus speaks about like that, that’s all study that wasn’t just anything that we just pulled out imaginative that those were studies. And so that’s just something that.

I feel like you can’t divorce from one another, right? And even just. I mean, when Zora and now we’re trying to find, like, clinics to film it, we didn’t end up filming a clinic, but trying to find a clinic in one part of town near downtown versus if you were to go again to the West side. So this is night and day. It’s just…it’s not the same..

00:21:23 Asha Dahya
You put that so well, I mean. It’s something that we need to think about more the nuance and the complex layers that like urban planning, you put it so. Like who planned it? Who is it planned for and what are the benefits or lack of benefits for the people that live there?

00:21:42 Morgan Jerkins
Right. Like I live in Harlem, right? The arch of the modern architect of New York City is Robert Moses, Modern Moses. Modern Robert Moses created these highways, right? These highways and these interstates in New York City. They cut through black neighborhoods they cut through, but they cut to these enclaves. And the reason why, like early in the interview when I talked about lack of space with regards to trees and it’s different in the Upper East Side, which is right here. But it’s not here. It’s because of him. And that’s why, you know, I remember the first summer that I was in New York, I almost had a heat stroke because it was so high. But then if I went to the park, if I went to Upper East Side, Upper West Side… Completely different. The breeze just cut through the trees differently and I knew and I didn’t know them, but I know now in retrospect that that was by design. It’s not just because of a city, it just happened to arise organically. It was all by design.

00:22:47 Asha Dahya
It just really speaks to the idea of who’s in leadership? Who are they? What are those decisions that they’re making? I want to talk about the filmmaking aspect for a moment before we started recording. Morgan, you said this is your first short film. I’d love to talk about that. You’ve worked a lot in film and TV and the entertainment world. I’d love to talk about what were the biggest challenges making Black Madonna for you both and how are you navigating through those now, as the film is going to be out in the world

00:23:19 Zora Schiltz Rouse
As you share it, there’s so much freedom and no short and short film making like short form filmmaking, which is really fun and it’s exciting, guerilla style work that you can do. But on the other hand, it’s like, well for me, my biggest struggle in pre production was finding time to commit. To kind of building this with Morgan just because, like you know, of course I was. I was working the whole time when pre production as Morgan was, that was a struggle just to balance. Just your own professional work with your creative work with like a nine to five that was hard to find the time to do some pre production. That was my biggest hurdle.

Every stage has its own difficulties, but that and yeah, that first part for me was a challenge. I remember I would have to like, you know, I couldn’t show up for a couple of like rehearsals or casting calls. You’re working like 16 hour days and that was tough to find that time. It’s hard trying to find time to work on your own creative stuff when you’re beholden to other people’s work. Working on a TV show at the time, which is it offers you no flexibility in terms of like there’s very little time off, exceptionally long days for minimal pay. Mostly. Yeah. What about you in pre production specifically? Morgan, what were some of the challenges?


00:24:49 Morgan Jerkins
The challenges I was thinking more actual production for me personally, I started my career working by myself. I was a one woman machine. I underestimated, but kind of not in terms of just the scale blew up for me because, you know, I have a Co director now. We have a whole like producers now you have crew and I was not used to delegating in that way. You got to make decisions fast, right? And I think also during production, I had to learn to put my foot down in the way that I’m not used to like. I’m used to being from the journalism space. It is a collaborative process. OK, let’s table that. No, you can’t do that. In fact, I remember our DP Maricela pulled me into a bathroom and was like we have got to get moving like, you know, in terms of budgeting, in terms of overtime like you have to make a an executive decision like you are the Co director like your actors and everybody’s having an opinion. About what? But you have to shut it down and I am not used to that and so that’s where my child’s production wise, I think.

This was a personal challenge, but this wasn’t. No one ever complained, but I don’t know if that’s the issue, right? It’s like Black Madonna cost $50,000 to make, it was funded by my parents. It’s something that I cannot be more thankful to them for. But even still, like when I’m seeing people get up at six 7:00 in the morning and work 10-11 days, 11 hour, 12 hour days and they’re only getting paid like 300 or 400 if that. I was like damn like all that work and I know they liked it. They especially like the food and the snacks and the beverages we gave them. But I was just like, Man, I wish I could pay you five times more than this. Like I wish I could do that. And you get like nobody complained. But it was like it really made me think about move. I don’t look at movies the same way like anytime I watch a movie, I’m thinking to myself, well, how much did it cost? How much did that movie cost to make? But then I’m also thinking in my mind, man. Like, what were those people doing on that set and how many hours a day did they have to work on that set and how quick the turn around had to be, you know? When I watched the first Dune, it was $200 million and I was like I can’t imagine like the delegation of crew here, there, filming it from this side, pivoting to that side like it is, definitely made me be more appreciative of the people that we don’t see, but also just like still more spell bound and confused by just the the nuts and bolts unintended of making a film.

00:27:59 Asha Dahya
Well, Speaking of Dune, well, sort of. Zora, before you were talking about getting the film out there, you know what it takes? You make this film. You put all this money and energy and work into it, but then the film is done. And then the next challenge begins: how to attract attention. Can you talk a little bit about that and getting people’s attention about the film?

00:28:20 Zora Schiltz Rouse
The film, I think that’s something that we’re still, we’re still figuring it out. We recently re edited the short and I think we’re going to make a more concerted effort to get people’s attention. And I think this being asked to get on this podcast or be on this podcast is we’re so grateful and lucky and this is like, you know, one of those opportunities where we can really showcase this film, in a way that we we didn’t the first time around is we had a we had a previous edit that we we submitted to festivals with some success. It was really wonderful. But I think this time around we’re going to, I don’t know, I started an Instagram page for Black Madonna. I think I was a little squeamish to ask for anybody’s attention. You know, I feel like I was going to hesitate, but this time around, I think, like, I want to be a little more vocal. I want to be a little more clear with people, but I think that they should watch this. I think it’s in their interest to see what we’ve done.

00:29:23 Morgan Jerkins
The film industry has been through a lot like just with the writers strike and the actor strike. I think that also sort of allow us to take our time and to really process just in the film and just respectively where this can go, where our careers could go. So yeah, I think it’s like I’m still just like this was a big deal. Like it wasn’t just a small feat to do, and I think I need to stand in that.

00:29:47 Zora Schiltz Rouse
Yeah, agreed. I think you know, and she and I were both based in New York now. We were talking about, I don’t know, screening line which everything is important. Just like you know grab the attention of the local audience in New York City is obviously like a fabulous place where you can meet lots of incredible artists and create or kind of community that I have yet to see anywhere else. Yeah, I’m taking notes from other friends that have made a career out of doing shorts. Sorry, I’m still trying to figure it out. That’s something that you know we’re going to look at. And then also obviously the power of social media is enormous, you know, this whole thing was kind of it was because of social media that we even like. We found our two leads. So that’s something we tried to navigate. I mean, we’re gonna feel it out. Morgan, you’re pretty good on social media. You have a good presence. You know how to, like, interact, to engage with your audience.

00:30:37 Morgan Jerkins
I started my career online so it’s like I called my seller, the quintessential millennial writer. That’s how my career got started. So yeah, it tends to be very sad, but I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I was a bit hesitant to talk about filmmaking because I felt like my art is like, oh my god… She writes. She edits. She’s a professor. And now all of a sudden she’s doing some film, but it’s like you know what: Yeah, you are all the things. And I just need to stand in that.

00:31:02 Asha Dahya
I love that you’re talking about marketing. Therefore as well as how people assume when you make a film, studios throw all this money at you. I mean for doom. Yes, on HBO, sure. But when you’re making independent short film, talk us through that a little bit you know. Just challenge those assumptions that people may have about filmmaking.

00:31:22 Morgan Jerkins
Well, I mean, I had a friend of mine who’s an entertainment lawyer, and she was like, I don’t know of any black women that have their independent films funded by their parents. She was like that. Just puts you in a very different bracket. I see the GoFundMe’s andI see the IndieGogo’s So it’s like I don’t take any of that for granted. It costs money and and granted like Black Madonna could have been a one day thing it could have right it could have just been one day.

We could have cut this thing down, but you know, I I didn’t want that. Like I already had to cut it down so it knows. Like I had to go to so many edits to cut it down to the size that it was in terms of writing and I think that’s the thing. It’s like independent filmmaking. There’s a lot more creativity, but things still cost money. There are people that do bartering and do things, you know back and forth, but I was happy that you know, people know, Zor know, they know me and I was happy that you know my first film I was able to say that like because y’all don’t know me. I don’t know what I could bother with you for And so I’m going to go the traditional way and I have my parents to help. So that was something that, you know, like I said, I don’t take for granted something I’m still processing. But yeah.

00:32:44 Zora Schiltz Rouse
But the marketing thing that’s interesting, I mean it’s a whole industry in itself. I mean it is like this multidollar machine, it’s particularly in Hollywood. It’s a craft. I just have such an appreciation for every department because we had to operate as all departments. And now, like I’m just and try to like try to very quickly kind of wrap our heads around like. OK, what does this person in the industry do and how do we do that for ourselves? Yeah, marketing is, it is really tricky. I would say on a grassroots level, just like show your film and by people locally, I think that’s like I think that’s an interesting marketing tactic. But also of course we like you know, we were, I submitted our film to 1,000,000 festivals.You know, and that was a great opportunity getting into festivals and then meeting like, you know, seeing their work on screen and then having people come up to us after the fact and just like really engaging with people.

And that’s how I like to. That’s how I like to market things. I think it’s just really engaging one-on-one. It’s like there was this, there was this man that came up to me after Black Madonna played at the festival and he said, “So what happened? Like what did she do?” And I love the interaction it felt so I really was… Yeah, I felt that that was. It was so personal. And I don’t know, it was like, great to get that feedback in person from the audience member. So like, yeah, I think yeah, engaging with people locally is fun.

00:34:21 Asha Dahya
Yeah, those personal connections. Well, Speaking of, what did she do? I love that in the film.  Aziza is making the decision when she finds out she’s pregnant. You know what is she going to do? And that is one of the core tenets of reproductive justice, the right to have a child and the right not to parent. If you don’t want to. And to be able to do that with community and safety and support and all the things that don’t always Exist. In the United States right now, why was it important to include that aspect of her personal story in this film overall?

00:34:58 Morgan Jerkins
Why was it important to include a personal story in terms of?

00:35:01 Asha Dahya
Well, you know her ambivalence about whether she wants to birth and whether she wants to raise her child in the environment that she lives in, which isn’t healthy.

00:35:11 Morgan Jerkins
I think it’s just real. It’s like you know not everybody is excited when they see the two lines on a pregnancy test. She’s overworked. She has a niece already who has respiratory issues so does her grandmother. She lives in an apartment. It’s hot all the time. You know, she’s not making as much as she wants to and it seems like, you know, only a small group of people in the community care about what’s going on. Now she has this other stressor In her life. I wanted people to see that, you know, this like, see the stakes. That’s for any story that I write, there has to be stakes involved, right. But I also like the way that I ended it with, like, we don’t know what this is she makes but the rainfall that happens demonstrates that seasons always change and things can turn around, as it did with her and getting the fellowship. That’s why I wanted to make sure that I added that lightness too. Because I didn’t want to see, like, OK, this is a girl. She just has all this not necessarily trauma, but bad things happening to her. I just wanted to show that there’s a lot in making this decision and at the end of the day, regardless of what she chooses that. The middle of the film ends with her understanding that she’s going to be OK.

00:36:49 Zora Schiltz Rouse
I think in any of the conversations that I have with friends these conversations sort of popping up like my late 20s is there’s always… I don’t know any women, any friends who aren’t indecisive about the choice to become a mom or a parent. There’s a lot of indecision and I know people that really strongly wanted to be parents and even then, they were still, they questioned whether or not it was the right decision, whether they’re looking at the state of the world, climate, politics and wondering if this is a good idea? I feel like this conversation, everybody’s a little… Even if you strongly want to be a parent. Still, considering the world we live in, it’s a difficult choice to make. Even if you have all the means in the world it’s still complicated. My own parents, they were very openly: We just didn’t know. And I know this was like 30 years ago but they were like, “We just couldn’t really figure it out. He didn’t want them. I wasn’t sure. Was it going to be good for my career?” It’s just an interesting conversation. It’s really nuanced. It was a fun conversation to have and put a short together, considering it’s just at the top of a lot of women’s minds in their 30s, you know.

00:38:15 Asha Dahya
And I think it’s really important that we have those nuanced conversations. It’s not such a black and white like, ohh, I’m pregnant. I’m gonna have a baby or, you know, it’s there are so many factors that go into that. And the more that we can see the nuance. We can give people the respect and dignity to make their own autonomous choices about their bodies and their lives without assuming. You know that’s a, you know, that’s going into a whole other political realm, but you know, we are in a presidential election year here in the United States, and you talked about before all the different aspects of, you know, infrastructure and how urban planning is laid out and what do you want people to think about when they watch Black Madonna. What kind of issues and what do you want people to be mindful of after watching this film and going into the election and the issues that they’re going to come up against and hear from candidates?

00:39:09 Morgan Jerkins
I want them to understand that place is just as much of a character as human beings are. A place shapes how we navigate the world. Place shapes our psychology, our decision making it shapes it, shapes how we form community, how community falls apart. And I think that’s so important because America is such a big place and I think it’s easy, especially if you live in cities to be in a vacuum with just like, OK, my neighborhood. You know, these couple of blocks and all that. But what I hope is that when people see the story of a season that they see a rippling effect and that this is 1 store, but they can be many different stories across America. We see it with oil spills and and in Louisiana we see it with factories in, in, in, in you know in why mining towns.

In West Virginia, we see all these different things that are happening, but aside from the economic downturn, what is that doing to the people? And so that’s why I hope, I hope that when people watch the film, that they pay attention to the atmospheric elements of all that’s going on from the the heat to the noise to the lack of trees when she’s commuting here and there, but there’s all these plants where she’s working on the rain. Like I hope that they pay attention to all these different things because this just enhances the story itself.

00:40:46 Zora Schiltz Rouse
I want to say that I I didn’t know this until recently, but in Paris, in France on March 4th, France became the only nation to guarantee the right to an abortion. And as it’s like, it’s in the Constitution, especially constitutional in an election year. When things seem so tenuous in the United States, I just, I think it’s, you know it’s hopeful, but it’s also bitter. It’s bittersweet, considering that ours, our human rights are so tenuous right now in the states. So I’m hopeful, I think. I hope I want to be hopeful.

00:41:34 Asha Dahya
I think it’s important to have that element of hope in whatever way we can and film has the opportunity to allow audiences to do that. You know you’re talking about as these are having that moment of hope at the end of the film and there are ways that we can dig into our own communities and our own networks and help each other. So I think that’s something that’s very reflective of the story that we’ve seen. Black Madonna, where can people look out for black Madonna, as you’re gearing up to get it out there and festivals and screenings and all of that. Like you mentioned, where can people keep up with the journey of Black Madonna and where can they follow both of you?

00:42:12 Morgan Jerkins
So you can keep up with me on just my Twitter handle is Morgan Jerkins. My Instagram is @_MorganJerkins and so I’ll be updating a lot of my personal pages of what’s going on with Black Madonna.

00:42:28 Zora Schiltz Rouse
Yeah, likewise you can follow me @zorapepita on Instagram and we will have links to Black Madonna’s socials so you can follow along on the journey.

00:42:40 Asha Dahya
I love it and we’ll put all the social links in our show notes as well. And finally, what gives you both hope for the future?

00:42:48 Morgan Jerkins
Ohh wow, that’s a big question. I think what gives me hope for the future is: Community. Like I think that we’ve seen a lot of destabilizing things that have happened in our society in the past four years even beyond that. But I think it’s the ways in which people have come together Have been really inspiring for me, whether it’s Free libraries, small libraries on the street, whether it’s community fridges, block parties, Narcan testing for when you wanna go party safely, like all of these different things, the ways that people sell for each other, that doesn’t have to do a car seriality. That doesn’t have to do with subjugation or censorship. Those are things that inspire me and give me hope.

00:43:49 Zora Schiltz Rouse
I’m inspired by women that I follow online. You know, like women, millennial aged women that I’m, you know, that they’re a lot that I look up to on social media. I find them to be like such a bum and such a difficult time really inspired by like particularly like black female artists online. Personally I’m inspired by my female friends. You know, the ones that are staunchly child free and the ones that are new moms. I have a niece who’s my friend is 9 months pregnant and my niece is about to be born. And I couldn’t be more excited. I’m just excited by, like, inspired by women and the women around me who are making bold choices. You know, whether or not they very much do not want children or ones that are like going to bring in, they’re going to nurture incredible children and bring in a new generation of wonderful people. Yeah, I’m just inspired by the women that I meet.

00:44:47 Asha Dahya
It’s beautiful. Well, I’m inspired by the work you’re both doing and I can’t wait to see what you do next and we are so excited to be sharing black Madonna with the repro film community these two couple of months. So thank you Morgan and Zora for your time today.

00:45:02 Zora Schiltz Rouse / Morgan Jerkins
Thank you so much. Thank you.

00:45:05 Asha Dahya
You can watch ‘Black Madonna’ this month by heading to reprofilm.org, and subscribe to our free periodical to receive a whole host of repro film goodies straight to your inbox every month – I’m talking every episode of this podcast, a short film, a playlist, organizations to support, links to resources and other bite sized pieces of repro advocacy.

You can also check out the links in the show notes to follow Morgan and Zora on social media.

Be sure to share this podcast episode with a friend and help us spread the repro film mission which is all about centering bodily autonomy through storytelling, film and conversation.

The rePROFilm podcast is executive produced by mama.film

Hosted and produced by me, Asha Dahya,

Edited by Kylie Brown,

With original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony.

The periodical is programmed by Neha Aziz and written by Emily Christensen

You can find us on social media @reprofilm on Instagram and watch our additional video content on our Youtube channel @reprofilmorg. I’m your host Asha Dahya, and I look forward to bringing you our next podcast episode. Bye for now!

Periodical Podcast Volume 25

Meet this month’s filmmakers:  Morgan Jerkins and Zora Schiltz Rouse

Morgan Jerkins and Zora Schiltz Rouse are young filmmakers working at the thematic intersection of environmental and reproductive justice.

Morgan is a New York Times bestselling author and National Magazine Award-winning journalist. Zora is a producer and director who most recently worked on a Ryan Murphy show for FX.

We’ll be back with their full interview on April 3 — think of it as a post-film Q&A.

In the meantime, follow them on IG: @_morganjerkins@zoritapepita

Morgan Jerkins is a New York Times bestselling author and National Magazine Award winning journalist who’s based in New York City. She currently teaches in the Creative Writing department at Princeton University.
Zora Schiltz Rouse is a producer and director with degrees from The New School and King’s College London. She most recently worked on a Ryan Murphy show for FX.

She is the co-creator and star of the six-part series “Out There”, a recipient of the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre. Zora works at the production company Color Force, and their show “Clipped” will air on Hulu this June.

00:00:05 Asha Dahya
Welcome to the rePROFilm Podcast, I’m your host Asha Dahya. I am very excited to share my upcoming interview with some extraordinary filmmakers for this month’s Periodical.

00:00:17 Morgan Jerkins
My name is Morgan Jerkins, and if you want to chime in Zora and introduce yourself.

00:00:24 Zora Schlitz Rouse
Hello, my name is Zora Schlitz Rouse and I co-directed Black Madonna with Morgan Jerkins.

00:00:29 Morgan Jerkins
Yep, and I co-directed with Zora and I wrote Black Madonna. Black Madonna is about a black climate justice activist who discovers that she’s pregnant while living in a Los Angeles neighborhood that’s experiencing a very devastating environmental decline. So that was that. That’s just the logline. But you can probably tell that I’ve rehearsed it a lot and had to sculpt it a lot, because I tend to be very long winded, but hopefully that gives a very snappy teaser of it all.

00:01:03 Asha Dahya
Stay tuned for the full interview with Black Madonna directors Morgan and Zora. In the meantime, be sure to subscribe to our free periodical at Reprofilm.org and we will drop every episode of the podcast, as well as a host of other repro goodies, straight to your inbox every month.