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Phyllis Nagy and Wunmi Mosaku – When In Need Call Jane

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Phyllis Nagy and Wunmi Mosaku

When In Need Call Jane

by Jay S. Jacobs

It’s rare that a film happens to capture the cultural zeitgeist of American beliefs with the force of Call Jane. Not that it was planned – or even wanted. Just a matter of months after the Supreme Court delivered the Dobbs decision, effectively overturning Roe vs. Wade and the abortion rights that American women have lived under for five decades, the movie reminds us of what the world was like before Roe.

Taking place in 1968, it is the story of Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a happily married middle class housewife who learns of a late pregnancy. At first, she and her husband (Chris Messina) were very happy to find out about the pregnancy, but when a doctor determines that she would not likely survive childbirth, she is forced to consider abortion. However, at the time, it is not widely available, and a group of men decide the risk to her life is not worth the legal ramifications of stopping the pregnancy.

Therefore, Joy must decide to risk her life in carrying her child, or to find another way of ending the pregnancy. She is given lots of not-so-helpful advice (taking pills, throwing herself down a flight of steps) before running across a flier which reads “Call Jane.” This leads her to the Janes, a group of women led by an aging hippie named Virginia (Sigourney Weaver) and a Black activist named Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku of Lovecraft Country, We Own This City and Loki) who have put together a safe haven – well, relatively safe – for women to get abortions.

After the procedure, Joy finds herself being drawn deeper into the world of the Janes, quickly becoming a surprising leader of the movement.

Call Jane has been in the works for several years – the screenplay was considered one of the top ten unproduced screenplays of 2017 – long before the overturn of Roe, but at a point where it was in danger.

The film is the second film directing job by playwright and theatrical director Phyllis Nagy, who wrote and directed the TV movie Mrs. Harris in 2005 about the Herman Tarnower Scarsdale Diet murder case, and who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Carol with Cate Blanchett.

A few days before the premiere of Call Jane, we caught up with co-star Mosaku and director Nagy to discuss the prescient new film.

This is the first film that you have directed without actually having written it. What was it about this script that intrigued you?

Phyllis Nagy: Two things really. One was the tone, which I sensed is affording us an opportunity to make a film about something very serious with a light touch. I'm always attracted to material like that. Mrs. Harris was like that. That was one thing.

How about you, Wunmi? Why was the script interesting to you?

Wunmi Mosaku: It was the Janes. Just reading about these women – how they took their body autonomy into their own hands and helped women out of a predicament they didn't find themselves in single handedly. Yet they didn't the legal right to have the abortion that they needed.

Phyllis Nagy: The other thing [that intrigued] was the chance to make a movie in which collectives were examined, discussed, and brought back into the public consciousness. Groups of people gathering – either covertly in this case, or not – to solve problems. To really not stop until the problem is taken care of. So those things.

Wunmi Mosaku: Reading about these women, literally providing safe and illegal abortions themselves, it was just extraordinary. I hadn't heard about them. I didn't know this was possible. It was terrifying. Just the boldness of it, the boldness, the hope, the respect, and the care that they had. Just really incredible.

It's a very timely film. In fact, it's timelier now than it was when you started making it. Do you think that the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision only heightens the message of the film, and that Call Jane may help to stimulate conversation about reproductive rights?

Wunmi Mosaku: I really hope that Call Jane stimulates conversation and also [gets] people to vote to for the people who will preserve and uphold and respect women's bodily rights. That's the only hope and dream I have for this film now in this post-Dobbs world.

Phyllis Nagy: I hope it joins a part of a conversation that makes voters, in the first instance, because we're coming up on midterms. Then afterwards, to think about their positions on certain things, including abortion.

Wunmi Mosaku: I hope that people support clinics and charities like Abortion Care Network, so that we don't have to go to a pre-Roe world of backstreet abortions. We can still get people to safe states so that they can have the care that they need, require, and deserve. That's my hope for the film, that people feel galvanized to keep fighting. Keep doing. Actually doing, not talking.

Phyllis Nagy: I don't think we're going to change minds, but you can change a perspective. You can open a window, and in doing so engender some empathy for another person's point of view.

When making a film about such a politically charged subject, is it a delicate act to balance the story to tell it without preaching about it?

Phyllis Nagy: It's very delicate. That's why you need actors who are very, very skilled at comedy. It's not to say we've made a comedy. But the precision with which genuine acting comedians such as Elizabeth or Sigourney approach something is key in order to allow the tone in the subtext to really float.

There's a very diverse group of women there, there's the middle-aged housewife, the aging hippie, the Black Power advocate, even a nun. How important was it for you to show all these disparate types of women who are being affected by this and are part of the fight?

Wunmi Mosaku: Because freedom for all is freedom for all. If someone is oppressed and subjugated, then we're all at risk. We can see this now with Roe being overturned and a post Dobbs world, the conversation of the right to privacy. Once we're comfortable oppressing one person, or one type of people, it's something that will just keep coming. We've seen that in history. We know that's what happens. I think everyone needs body autonomy. Everyone needs that. So, everyone needs to be represented in that room.

Phyllis Nagy: It was very important whilst also maintaining the historical accuracy of who the Janes were in 1968. I think they skewed younger than the general group we have, but in terms of race and class – if we have class in America (laughs) – it skews pretty true.

Wunmi Mosaku: That's what I love about Gwen. She points out that she is the only Black woman in there and we're only supporting and helping people who have the $600. $600 today is expensive, let alone in the sixties. So let's talk about Black, brown and low-income women and let's make sure we're supporting everyone who needs us. Because the Janes were essential.

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: October 28, 2022.

Photos ©2022. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions. All rights reserved.


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