Directors of 'Aftershock,' exploring Black maternal morbidity, exemplify allyship in storytelling

ByNzinga Blake & Patrick Lawlor  via OTRC logo
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
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The story and history of the maternal morbidity crisis, as told in "Aftershock," is part of the reproductive rights journey in America.

LOS ANGELES -- This Father's Day and Juneteenth, ABC's On the Red Carpet Storytellers Spotlight featured two fathers who lost their partners to maternal morbidity. Their story is told in the Onyx Collective and ABC News Studios documentary film "Aftershock," which premieres today on Hulu.

Now, the spotlight is on Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt, the two directors who joined forces to give a voice to the women who lost their lives in this national crisis and families who mourn them.

A producer, author, director and advocate for women and infant health, Lee was inspired to direct and produce "Aftershock" after hearing first-hand stories from families across the country about Black women dying from preventable childbirth complications.

"I realized there was an issue going on out in the world," Lee said. "We needed to tell the story of what was happening and also dig a little deeper and figure out why this was going on and figure out some of the solutions about how we can fix it."

Eiselt, a documentary filmmaker and social justice advocate, was drawn to this issue after having her own traumatic birth experience.

SEE ALSO: How 2 dads are using storytelling to combat health care inequity

"In 2017, a slew of articles came out exposing this national crisis, and it was that moment that I realized that what I had experienced on an individual level Black women are experiencing in great numbers in really profound ways," Eiselt said. "I felt like this is a story that needs to be told and needs to be told the right way."

She continued, "We just have to do something. I was called to use whatever skillset I had to contribute to a movement that has been going on."

Lee further explained the importance of incorporating historical context within the film in an effort to help audiences understand how and why the maternal morbidity crisis came to be in this country: "You cannot tell the story of where we are now without giving historical context of how we got here. There's just a reality to that, and there may be people who will try to say things aren't true, but there is a historical record."

The issue of systemic racism within the health care system has been a controversial topic for many, but Eiselt encourages people to lean into the discomfort as a way to bring about understanding and social cohesion.

"The film, I'm sure, will make certain people uncomfortable," she said. "I want viewers to sit in their discomfort. I have to be willing on my end to do that, too...as a white-skinned person, being able to listen and understand things that I know I can't understand and acknowledge that and try my best to listen."

The strong collaboration between these two directors is a true testament to the power of allyship in storytelling.

"It's really important to be able to partner with people who come from different cultures, who think a different way. When...you do that, you can really crack open and get at truth and a different perspective you may have never thought of," Lee said.

"Partnering with Paula Eiselt on 'Aftershock' was incredibly important and powerful because we come from two very different backgrounds and yet we were able to not only work together, but really thrive by challenging each other, listening to each other, and learning from one another. [It] was a tremendous experience, and I think collaboration is key," Lee added.

"Aftershock" is now streaming on Hulu.

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of Hulu and this ABC station.