Aftershock [Sundance ’22 Review]

Aftershock documentary still of Shawnee Benton Gibson and Bruce McIntyre

, directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, personalizes the Black maternal mortality and morbidity epidemic in the United States in this documentary. Through the heartache of two fathers who lost their partners due to subpar hospital care, we see the grief and determination that galvanizes them to activism. Heartbreaking does not begin to describe Aftershock; a film that tells a story we may hear through statistics or the occasional news piece if at all. 

As I started watching Aftershock, I had to fight back tears and by the end, I was crying. The issue with blood clots and even subpar, neglectful care will hit close to home for many. The story of Shamony Gibson, Amber Rose Isaac, and countless other Black women is painful and tragic. Their story is a familiar, tragic refrain for many Black women due to medical racism, especially anti-Black racism. If you are unsure of what medical racism entails, watch this documentary. There is no rationalization that can excuse the lack of proper care Black women receive during pregnancy. 

Healthcare Is Biased And Capitalistic

Aftershock documentary, by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, still of Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Kerwin Devonish

The medical industry, like all others, is a numbers game that favors quantity or quality, and quantity is output plus time. While I knew about the lack of care and downright callous treatment Black, Aftershock sheds light on aspects of healthcare I did not know. Hospitals receive more money for c-sections vs. vaginal births and the medical software in place set up discriminatory care from the moment hospital staff selects “African-American” for race. 

Aftershock weaves the story of these two mothers, Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac, using videos and pictures from their lives. Then the film follows the fathers, and families of the two mothers as they push for a change in the treatment Black expecting mothers receive from obstetrics. The film does also gives history lessons throughout about midwives and how white men forcefully took over the industry. Some of the information may surprise you as well as the statistics of how many Black women die during or after childbirth. 

A Must-See Documentary

The issue is more than care during pregnancy, but the factors outside a hospital—poverty ties in with access to care, pollution, etc. Racism, anti-Blackness and misogynoir in this country curtail our options and create health problems before we ever step in a doctor’s office or hospital. Then the treatment, or lack thereof, in the hospital finishes the job. Aftershock gives the experience a humanity by personalizing the issue. No mother should die, missing the opportunity to watch their children grow up, due to biases that deny them proper maternity care. 

Aftershock will break your heart if you have a heart. It will leave you sad, angry, and hopefully motivate you to get involved with groups and organizations combatting discriminatory healthcare. It is a tragedy made all the more heart-wrenching because it is avoidable. So far, this is my favorite documentary of 2022 and comes with my highest recommendation because it is essential to know the problem we continue to face before we can take action. Aftershock is informative, personal, moving, and necessary. 

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