Documentary, 1h 34min
The 8th tells the story of Irish women and their fight to overturn one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the world.
“Most countries don’t have that opportunity [to vote]…it’s a privilege”
TW : film contains mentions of sexual assault, miscarriages, abortion and eating disorders
After Poland’s recent ban on almost all abortions in October last year (see article), Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in March (see article), and Switzerland’s ban on Islamic women’s face-coverings in the same month (see article),The 8th comes at an important time for women’s movements in the Western world. It’s a reminder of past and present struggles, and that the things we sometimes take for granted, such as voting and the right to live freely, have not always been within our grasp.
The 8th is a documentary about the Irish campaign group, Together for Yes’, uphill battle to repeal the 8th amendment in 2018, an amendment that since 1983 had criminalized any form of abortion. While a number of its campaigners are interviewed, the real ‘protagonist’ is Ailbhe Smyth, a lifelong activist who in addition to her pro-choice fight, has been one of Ireland’s most important LGBTQ activists, earning her a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award at the GALAS for “being just a good gay basically” (00:04:00). Despite her contagious laughter and bubbly attitude, you can tell from a mile away she’s lived a life pushing and shoving to have her voice heard. Having survived anorexia nervosa, she not only learnt how to take up space in the world, but she’s also fought for so many women like her who have been refused that very same space.
The documentary itself is a cinematic masterpiece in its genre. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the way it drips information is structured in such a way that it eases the viewer’s understanding of the women’s present and past struggles to de-criminalize abortion. It neatly lays out the way in which the 8th Amendment has caused women to lose their lives, and how Ireland’s unresolved trauma with the Catholic Church has made these kinds of issues increase tensions that were already present. This, in addition to the delicate yet emotive score principally made up of piano and strings, highlights the historic moment this referendum signifies. Finally, for the photographers among our viewers, the documentary is rich with artistic shots that use placards and murals as metonyms for the wider fight. It’s these shots of a single poster or leaflet that remind you of the particular within the global: that just as that specific piece of paper is part of a larger group of papers, so too are the individual women who need abortions part of a larger society.
If there is one critique I have for the film, it is its brief mention of Smyth’s LGBTQ activism. In fact, apart from the GALAS award, it doesn’t mention her fight for same-sex marriage. While the documentary doesn’t have much room to branch out of the subject of abortion, viewers would have benefitted from a deeper dive into Smyth’s past. This is not solely because at Lesflicks we’re interested in lesbian and bisexual stories, but because LGBTQ activism and feminism are often intersectional and challenge patriarchal structures in very similar ways.
Coming from a Catholic Latin American country that has yet to fully legalize abortion, this film struck a chord with me. It’s one that inspires and gives strength to those of us who still have to fight for this right in our own countries. It’s also one that should inspire those who already have that right to protect it and to continue fighting for it. Because as we’ve seen in Poland, these rights can be stripped away from one day to the next. Arguably the most important quote in the film comes from Smyth: “Most countries don’t have that opportunity [to vote]…it’s a privilege” (01:20:16). Let’s remember to take care of this privilege, and to use it wisely.
Watch the trailer
This article was written by:
Isidora has written for various student papers, offering articles from film reviews to opinion pieces that often had Latin American cultural events or productions as the focus of the piece.
She has just graduated from her MPhil in Comparative Literatures from the University of Cambridge, and will be going on to do her PhD in Hispanic Studies in Toronto.