Review: ‘Unconditional’ (2023), starring Richard Lui, Stephen Lui, Rose Lui, Luke Bushatz, Amy Bushatz, Kate Hendricks Thomas and Shane Thomas

May 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Richard Lui and Stephen Lui in “Unconditional” (Photo courtesy of Prisca Films)

“Unconditional” (2023)

Directed by Richard Lui

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, Virginia, Alaska, and New York City, the documentary film “Unconditional” features a predominantly white group of people (with some Asians) discussing lives of people who need caregivers.

Culture Clash: Disabled people and their caregivers experience a high amount of stress that might not always be adequately treated, and family members might not always agree on how to deal with the end of the disabled person’s medical issues. 

Culture Audience: “Unconditional” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in very personal and memorable stories about families who are involved with caregiving for loved ones with medical issues.

Pictured from far left to right: Kate Hendricks Thomas, Matthew Thomas and Shane Thomas in “Unconditional” (Photo by Alex Wong/Prisca Films)

“Unconditional” is an informative and deeply moving documentary about people with serious medical issues and their family caregivers. The movie is made all the more personal because “Unconditional” director Richard Lui shares his own intimate story as a caregiver. Lui is the narrator of this documentary, which does not sugarcoat the despair, stress and frustrations that can happen when loved ones have to take on the responsibility of caregiving. However, “Unconditional” (which was filmed over seven years, including the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic) is ultimately a positive showcase for family love and loyalty under very difficult circumstances.

“Unconditional” focuses on the stories of three families, who each have a loved one with a life-threatening disease or medical condition:

The Lui Family: “Unconditional” director Richard Lui, who is a New York City-based anchor for MSNBC and NBC News, is shown helping take care of his father Stephen Lui, an Alzheimer’s disease patient. After his father (a retired social worker) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (which destroys people’s memories and muscle functions), Richard requested a switch to a part-time work schedule on weekends, so that he could be in his parents’ hometown of San Francisco during the week to help take care of his father, who was in his 80s at the time this documentary was filmed.

Stephen’s longtime wife Rose Lui (a retired schoolteacher) had been his primary caretaker at home, until Stephen’s medical issues required him to be moved to a nursing care facility. Richard’s two siblings Rob Lui and Kristen Lui (who are both in the documentary) also help take care of their father Stephen, who eventually lost his ability to speak. It’s mentioned in the documentary that the Lui family had to make a difficult decision on what to do when Stephen forgot to know how to swallow. After much debate, the family decided to have a risky but effective way of getting Stephen fed: having a stomach tube inserted inside him.

The Bushatz Family: Luke Bushatz is a military veteran who is living with numerous medical issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cardiac disease, a brain injury, substance addiction. He received his brain injury in 2009, when an improvised explosive device (IED) bomb went off and trapped him in a vehicle.

Luke, his journalist wife Amy Bushatz, and their two underage sons David Bushatz and Huck Bushatz live in Palmer, Alaska. Amy says that the family moved there to “get a fresh start. Luke finds it healing to go hiking in the mountains. However, he lives with the negative effects of his medical issues every day, including forgetfulness, having a bad temper, insomnia, and paranoia about being ambushed by bombs or other weapons.

Amy’s journalist specialty is giving coverage of caregivers and military families. She doesn’t mince words when she says that she’s not a saintly caregiver, which is the image that many caregivers (especially women) are expected to have. Amy admits that when Luke does something that annoys her, she will get angry and impatient with him. She says that she’s been coping with the stress by seeing a therapist. Luke and Amy both mention that their marriage nearly reached a breaking point between 2012 and 2015, because of Luke’s substance abuse problems and suicidal thoughts, which he was able to overcome with therapy.

David, the older and more sensitive of the two brothers, seems to have a better understanding of how the serious issues that his father Luke has. In the documentary, David talks about trying to be as quiet and invisible as possible because he gets afraid when his father is in a bad mood. Luke admits that he has “blackout” temper tantrums. Younger brother Huck, who has a much rosier view of his father, mainly talks about Luke being a war hero. Huck seems to be have a much stronger emotional bond to Luke than David has, while David seems to be closer than Huck to their mother Amy.

The Thomas Family: Before she was diagnosed with cancer, Kate Hendricks Thomas was a board member of the Service Women’s Action Network, a non-profit group dedicated to help women who are former and current members of the U.S. military. She and her husband Shane Thomas got married in 2014, the same year that their son Matthew Thomas as born. After her diagnosis, the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, to be closer to Kate’s side of the family, which includes her brother Matthew Hendricks, who is one of her family members interviewed in the documentary.

At the time that she was diagnosed with cancer, Kate was given only six to 10 years to live. Kate (who was in the U.S. Marines) believes she got cancer from toxic smoke and contaminated water that she had to drink while she served in combat in Al-Fallujah, Iraq. She tried to use this theory as a basis for claim for her son Matthew to get military benefits after she dies, but this claim was denied by the military. However, Kate thinks that she is correct because another woman who served alongside her in combat in the same location also has the same type of cancer.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the documentary is showing how family members cope with a loved one who is slowly dying and how the loved ones have to prepare for the inevitable death. Kate breaks down and cries when she shares her overwhelming feeling of dread of knowing that she won’t be around to see Matthew grow up to be an adult. Kate’s husband Shane also gets teary-eyed and choked up when he says in a separate interview: “I’m not ready to be a single parent.” And although Kate says she tries to be as positive and upbeat with Matthew as possible, there are moments when Matthew looks very sad because he knows his mother will die from cancer.

And although all of these middle-class families have the privilege of medical insurance and health care for their loved ones, it’s still a heavy financial burden for the family caregivers to provide what insurance does not cover. Rose Lui nearly drained her savings to pay for the nursing care facility where her husband Stephen had to be relocated. (It’s mentioned in the documentary that that it cost $10,000 a month to have Stephen at the facility.) The Thomas Family had to cope with a reduced household income after Kate (who had a higher income than Shane) was no longer able to have a job.

Disabled people who need caregivers are suffering, but one of the most important messages of “Unconditional” is that the caregivers shouldn’t neglect taking care of themselves too. Some caregivers, such as Amy, go to therapy. Rose found solace by taking up violin lessons at the age of 79. Richard got help from support groups of other caregivers. He says of coping with caregiving: “It was a lonely road until I found others.”

“Unconditional” has a no-frills approach to its directing and editing. The movie doesn’t need to be technically dazzling or artsy. The family stories in this compelling and meaningful documentary are more than enough to make an impact on viewers.

PBS premiered “Unconditional” on May 1, 2023. The movie was released in select U.S. cinemas (exclusively at AMC Theatres) for a limited engagement from May 3 to May 9, 2023. “Unconditional” will be released on digital and VOD on June 5, 2023.

Review: ‘Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,’ starring Michael J. Fox

May 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Michael J. Fox in “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie”

Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” features an all-white group of people discussing the life and career of retired actor Michael J. Fox.

Culture Clash: Fox has dealt with major health issues in his life, including Parkinson’s disease and alcoholism. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious fan base of Michael J. Fox fans, “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in celebrity documentaries and documentaries about health issues.

An archival photo of Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan in “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Inspiring and with superb film editing, “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” is a must-see documentary for anyone who wants to get a personal look at how Michael J. Fox refused to make his Parkinson’s disease into a tragedy but instead turned it into a triumph. The movie could have easily been a complete nostalgia trip, but the movie’s narrative cuts back and forth from the past to when the documentary was filmed, mostly in 2021 and 2022. It’s a visually striking contrast of Fox’s life when he was an award-winning, working actor to his current life of being a retired actor who continues to be an activist for Parkinson’s disease awareness and research. What hasn’t changed is that Fox still has a charming mix of confidence and self-deprecating wit.

Directed by Davis Guggenheim and narrated by Fox, “Still: A Michael J. Fox Story” doesn’t play coy about Fox living with Parkinson’s disease. The movie (which has several re-enactments) begins in Florida 1990, with a recreation of Fox waking up in a hotel room “with a ferocious hangover” and seeing the first signs that he had this disease: He saw one of his pinky fingers trembling uncontrollably. His bodyguard also had to prop him up when Fox tried to walk to the elevator. (Danny Irizarry, whose face is not shown in the movie, portrays Fox in the documentary’s re-enactments.)

At first, Fox assumed that his loss of muscle control was due to the heavy partying he had done the night before with actor Woody Harrelson. But as the world now knows, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991, but he didn’t go public about it until 1998. One of the most emotionally moving parts of the documentary is how Fox describes hiding this disease was in many ways just as damaging to his psyche as the disease was damaging to his body.

“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. There isn’t really anything new in “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” that he hasn’t already revealed in his memoirs (2002’s “Lucky Man: A Memoir by Michael J. Fox” and 2020’s “No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality”) or in interviews that he’s given before this documentary was made. But there never before has been a documentary like this made about Fox with Fox’s participation. Instead of just being a boring compilaton of archival clips and interviews, the documentary vividly brings Fox’s story to cinematic life with the way the movie uses clips from his on-screen roles to cleverly match the emotions and situations that Fox describes in his narration.

By now, most people who know why Fox is famous are already aware of his career highlights. Born in 1961 in the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta, he rose to fame in the 1980s, with starring roles in the 1982 to 1989 comedy TV series “Family Ties” (for which he won three Primetime Emmy Awards) and his breakthrough movie role in the 1985 sci-fi time-traveling comedy blockbuster “Back to the Future.” Many people also know about several of Fox’s other movies (such as 1985’s “Teen Wolf,” 1987’s “The Secret to My Success” and the “Stuart Little” movies), as well and his TV sitcom comeback in “Spin City,” which he starred in from 1996 to 2000. Fox won his fourth Primetime Emmy Award for “Spin City.” He won his fifth Primetime Emmy Award in 2009 for being a guest actor on the drama series “Rescue Me.”

Many of Fox’s fans already know the story of how he started acting while he was a child growing up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. As someone who was always shorter than most of his peers, Fox learned at an early age to use comedy as a way to make people like him—or at least back off a little from bullying or insulting him. In the documentary, Fox describes his teenage years as being an academically dismal student and a “serial fender bender.” He also had a rocky relationship with his retired military father, whom Fox describes as a pragmatist with a quick temper.

Fox decided to drop out of high school at age 17 to pursue an acting career full-time in the Los Angeles area. In the documentary, Fox says that he was surprised that his strict father didn’t put up much of fuss over this decision. Fox remembers his father telling him this analogy: “If you’re going to be a lumberjack, you better go to the goddamn forest.”

Like many struggling actors in the Los Angeles area, Fox was living in near-poverty and was able to book some jobs, but they weren’t enough to pay the bills. His big break as conservative teen Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties” came about because actor Matthew Broderick wasn’t available for the role, and Fox was able to win over a skeptical David Gordon Green, the showrunner of “Family Ties.” In the documentary, Fox describes the first time he made people laugh in his “Family Ties” audition was a high that was like no other: “No drink, no drug, not woman could touch that moment.”

Fox’s starring role as time-traveling teen Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” also came about because he wasn’t the first choice: Eric Stoltz was originally cast in the role and had started filming the movie when “Back to the Future” director Robert Zemeckis fired Stoltz for not being a good fit for the movie’s comedy. Just as Fox described in many other interviews and in his memoirs, for about three months, Fox kept a grueling schedule where he worked on “Family Ties” and “Back to the Future” at the same time. “Back to the Future” made him a household name worldwide.

Also duly noted in the documentary is the love story between Fox and Tracy Pollan, a theater-trained actress who played Alex P. Keaton’s girlfriend on “Family Ties.” Life imitated art. Fox and Pollan fell in love, and they got married in 1988. In the documentary, Fox says one of the reasons why he fell in love with Pollan was because she wasn’t impressed by his stardom and was honest with him, even if it might hurt his feelings.

Fox and Pollan have four children: son Sam (born in 1989); twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler (born in 1995); and daughter Esmé (born November 3, 2001). All four of the kids and Pollan are in the documentary with Fox. They are shown joking around with each other and being a loving family.

“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” doesn’t clutter up the movie with “experts” or “talking heads” discussing Fox. Occasionally, director Guggenheim can be heard talking to Fox off-camera. One of the questions that Guggenheim asks Fox is: “Before [you had] Parkinson’s, what did it mean to be still?” Fox replies, “I don’t know. I don’t remember being still.”

The documentary frequently juxtaposes Fox’s career highs with current footage that shows the contrast of what his life is like now: He has difficulty walking and is in constant physical therapy. Falling down and hurting himself are facts of life for him. One of the early scenes in the movie shows him taking a hard tumble on a sidewalk. In another scene, he has to have makeup applied to his fractured left cheekbone because of another fall that isn’t shown in the movie. There’s a montage of clips showing the tricks he used to do on camera to hide his shaking hands when his Parkinson’s disease was a secret from the public.

Fox also gets candid about becoming an alcoholic after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he says he got sober in 1992. His father’s sudden death of a heart attack in 1990 also shook him to the core. Fox says it was like crossing another painful threshold in adulthood. He also admits there was a period of time from the late 1980s to the early 1990s when he became a workaholic in movies because he was under the delusion that keeping busy with work would make his Parkinson’s disease go away. His workaholic lifestyle and making movies far away from his home were taking a toll on his family life, which is why he decided to go back to doing a TV series with “Spin City.”

The Michael J. Fox Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to Parkinson’s disease resources and research, is mentioned as one of the most significant accomplishments of Fox’s life. The foundation has raised more than $2 billion, according to the documentary. Fox has also been an outspoken activist who has testified in front of congressional committees and campaigned for more government funding for Parkinson’s disease.

Despite all the information in “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” that has already been revealed in other media, there’s no denying that seeing Fox open up in a movie about his life is illumninating in ways that can’t be done in a book, news article or a short interview. What emerges in the documentary is a portrait of someone who is not afraid to reflect on his life (including his past mistakes and failings) but doesn’t want to be stuck in the past. And most importantly, the movie is a positive example of how someone with a disease that weakens the body can gain emotional strength and help others.

Apple Studios released “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” in select U.S. cinemas and on Apple TV+ on May 12, 2023.

Review: ‘InHospitable,’ starring Vicki Arnett, Beth McCracken, Evie Bodick, Chelsa Wagner, Erin Ninehouser, Maurice Arnett and Natasha Lindstrom

November 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Beth McCracken (center, in white shirt) in “InHospitable” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama)


Directed by Sandra Alvarez

Culture Representation: Filmed in 2019 and 2020, in Pennsylvania and Atlanta, the documentary “InHospitable” features a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians), who are healthcare experts or hospital patients, discussing how profit-oriented business decisions from hospitals can be detrimental to the health care of patients.

Culture Clash: The documentary tells the personal stories of some patients in Pennsylvania who were affected by a business feud between healthcare companies University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Highmark.

Culture Audience: “InHospitable” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in behind-the-scenes revelations of how hospitals actively play a role in the rising costs of healthcare in the United States.

Vicki Arnett in “InHospitable” (Photo courtesy of Abramorama)

“InHospitable” is an unsettling but necessary warning to anyone concerned about U.S. health care. This enlightening documentary shows what can happen when non-profit hospitals act like greedy corporations that care more about profits than patients. Although “InHospitable” focuses on a healthcare problem in the Pittsburgh/western Pennsylvania area, the documentary makes it clear that this is a problem that can happen to any region of the United States and can affect millions of people.

Directed by Sandra Alvarez, “InHospitable,” which was filmed in 2019 and 2020, puts a spotlight on a business feud between healthcare companies University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Highmark. Both are non-profit groups that generate millions in profits every year. UPMC and Highmark own and operate hospitals and have their own insurance companies. UPMC is the largest employer in Pennsylvania.

In 2013, Highmark made a big move to compete with the virtual monopoly that UPMC had in the hospital business in Pennsylvania: Highmark made a $1 billion purchase of West Penn Allegheny Health System, thereby greatly increasing the number of hospitals that Highmark owned in Pennsylvania. In response, UPMC announced that it would no longer accept patients who had Highmark health insurance. This decision caused tremendous turmoil for Highmark-insured patients being treated at UPMC hospitals but couldn’t afford any other health insurance. And so, in 2014, Pennsylvania’s governor and state attorney intervened and negotiated a five-year contract, which was also called a “consent decree,” that had UPMC and Highmark essentially agree to not to deny health care to each other’s patients.

“InHospitable” mostly chronicles the months leading up to July 2019, when the contract was due to expire. Untold numbers of Highmark-insured patients treated at UPMC hospitals were starting to panic over losing their healthcare services at UPMC. Grassroots groups began to have town hall meetings and protests to bring attention to this healthcare crisis and demand that lawmakers and healthcare company officials do something about it.

The documentary focuses on three middle-aged people in particular who were affected by this healthcare crisis and participated in this activism. All of them had Highmark insurance but received healthcare from UPMC. The three activists who are featured prominently in “InHospitable” are:

  • Vicki Arnett (a nurse who worked for UPMC), the caregiver of her husband Maurice Arnett, a patient with cancer of the liver and colon.
  • Evie Bodick, a patient who says she had breast cancer and lung cancer twice and has a pacemaker.
  • Beth McCracken, a patient with a rare form of cancer that has caused her face to have partial paralysis.

The health insurance situation got so bad for Vicki and Maurice Arnett, the closest cancer treatment center they could find that would take their Highmark insurance was in Atlanta. The documentary shows the couple going to Atlanta for an appointment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Vicki mentions that although the couple had to pay for the travel expenses out of their limited budget, the overall cost would have been higher if Maurice had to get the cancer treatment outside of the Highmark insurance network.

Bodick mentions that she has five different doctors at UPMC, and to change these doctors would be detrimental to her recovery. In a documentary interview, Bodick says at one point in her life, she was given just six months to live, but she defied those expectations, because she said the UPMC doctors helped save her life. Bodick wants to do whatever it takes to keep those doctors with the Highmark insurance that she has.

McCracken says that if she can’t use her Highmark insurance at UPMC, her insurance premium would be six times higher and her deductible would be 20 times higher than the amount that she has to pay through her Highmark insurance. McCracken says in a documentary interview: “My fight to maintain my health care has robbed me of the strength to care for my health … We should not have to choose between bankruptcy and health care.”

“InHospitable” explains through interviews with experts and statistical data why this problem exists. The documentary includes a brief history of how the U.S. hospital industry has evolved. There are three types of hospitals in the U.S.: non-profit hospitals (which are the majority, at 56.5%, according to 2019 stats from the American Hospital Association); for-profit hospitals (24.9%); and government-owned hospitals (18.6%). Non-profit hospitals have tax-exempt status on many things, under the condition that they give certain services to underprivileged people, like a charity is supposed to do.

Several healthcare economists who are interviewed in the documentary say that the problem is that non-profit hospitals get very little government regulation on how they spend their money. Non-profit hospitals are starting to act more like for-profit corporations, such as buying up the competition and forcing a near-monopoly of hospital health care in some areas. When a money-making group doesn’t have much competition, the tendency is to charge more money to the customers (in this case, the patients), who see the higher costs through an increase in insurance fees.

In other words, gone are the days when most hospitals were small charities. “This is a big, big business,” says Martin Graynor, a healthcare economist at Carnegie Mellon University. Graynor says that part of the reason why hospitals have become bigger and more expensive is because of technology, as hospitals compete to have the latest and most hi-tech equipment, which could affect their hospital ratings. Georgia State University’s Center for Law, Healthy and Safety director Erin Fuse Brown offers another explanation: “Hospital consolidation is the number-one driver of rising prices.”

The U.S. healthcare industry makes billions in profits. Darrell Gaskin, a healthcare economist at Johns Hopkins University, comments on how non-profits changed their business models: “What used to be a cost center now becomes a revenue and profit center.” But at what cost?

The documentary (which includes some eye-catching animation to illustrate the health industry issues) shows that although the United States spends more on health care per person than any other developed country in the world, a person’s life expectancy in the U.S. is the lowest (about 77 years old) for any developed country in the world. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) statistics from 2019, which are cited in the documentary, the U.S. spends about $10,586 per person per year on health care, compared to the second-highest spending country: Germany, which spends about $5,986 (in U.S. dollars) per person per year.

The implication is that people who benefit the most from health care in the U.S. are those who can afford the increasing costs. Everyone else might not get the health care that they need, which could explain the lower life expectancy. Either way, the cost-to-benefit ratio is still alarming if the results are lower life expectancies. “InHospitable” shows through real people’s stories how health insurance should be not be a business game played by greedy hospitals, because the very real consequences are that people will die if they can’t get the health care that they need if they can’t afford it.

Emily Gee, a healthcare economist for the Center of American Progress, says in the documentary: “Pittsburgh is a great example of what happens when most of the health insurance and resources get locked up into two competing firms. And I think these companies have less and less accountability.”

How did hospitals get so much unchecked power? Fuse Brown says, “Healthcare systems escape a lot of scrutiny because they are very politically powerful.” Federal Trade Commission commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter comments, “Whenever we’re talking about political power and political influence, we cannot ignore the way our extremely broken campaign finance system affects decision making.” The documentary includes a statistic from a 2019 report from the Center for Responsive Politics that the U.S. healthcare industry spent $603 million in 2019 in U.S. political lobbying—more than any other industry.

What does that mean for the average person who’s experiencing a damaging problem such as having their health insurance no longer accepted by the place where they need to get medical treatment? “InHospitable” shows what several grassroots activists and their supporters did about the UPMC/Highmark problem in Pennsylvania in 2019. This footage is at the heart of the film.

In addition to having town hall meetings and peaceful protest rallies to persuade UPMC and Highmark to not let the two companies’ “consent decree” expire, activists enlisted the support of politician allies, such as Allegheny County controller Chelsa Wagner and Pennsylvania state representative Sara Innamorato, Summer Lee and Ed Gaines. “InHospitable” includes footage of these citizens meeting with lawmakers in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg. The documentary also shows other people who helped bring attention to this problem, including Pennsylvania Health Access Network patient advocate Erin Ninehouser and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Natasha Lindstrom.

“InHospitable” brings up the issue of racial and socioeconomic inequalities in U.S. healthcare, by mentioning how UPMC shut down its only hospital in Pittsburgh’s Braddock borough (which is populated by mostly African Americans, many of them low-income) in 2009. UMPC’s official reason for the shutdown was that the hospital wasn’t making enough money, which contradicts the main purpose of a non-profit. However, UPMC opened up a new hospital called UPMC East in a more affluent, mostly white neighborhood at a cost that was higher than it would have cost to keep UPMC’s Braddock hospital open.

Chuck Grassley, a U.S. Senator from Iowa, comments in the documentary: “The I.R.S. ought to be policing whether the non-profit organizations are really being non-profit, and are they carrying out the responsibilities under non-profit [laws].” Zack Cooper, a healthcare economist at Yale University, says that most healthcare economists believe many of these healthcare affordiability problems would be better solved if the U.S. government had better regulation of non-profit hospital finances.

In the meantime, “InHospitable” gives a very powerful chronicle of how everyday people in western Pennsylvania stood up for their rights against what seemed like big-business odds stacked against them. Vicki Arnett and Bodick are particularly passionate and outspoken when they speak to a crowd. If the documentary singles out any “villain,” it’s Jeffrey Ronoff, the CEO of UPMC. Bodick doesn’t mince words by saying that much of the UPMC problem with Highmark was caused “by his greed … This is a nightmare for people.” Ronoff declined to be interviewed for “InHospitable,” but the documentary includes some archival video clips of interviews that he did in 2009 and 2015.

An epilogue in “InHospitable” mentions that major non-profit healthcare groups—including UPMC, Highmark and the American Hospital Association (AHA) declined or did not respond to requests to participate in the documentary. AHA referred the “InHospitable” filmmakers to Charles River Associates, a consulting firm hired by the AHA to conduct a study on hospital consolidation. Charles River Associates executives Monica Noether and Sean May, who are interviewed in the documentary, say that consolidation exists to lower costs. But “InHospitable” questions if those lower costs are actually passed down to the patients.

The documentary also mentions that after hospital consolidations, the hospital’s non-management employees typically experience salaries decreases. (By contrast, upper-management employees at non-profit hospitals usually experience salary increases after hospital consolidations.) One of the highlights of the film is footage from a protest outside UPMC Montefiore over these lower wages and UPMC’s Highmark insurance ban. Another standout part of the documentary shows how protestors peacefully demanded to attend a UPMC Montefiore board meeting, even when officials decided at the last moment that only those who RSVP’ed would be able to attend.

Other people interviewed or featured in the documentary include medical doctor Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of “An American Sickness”; medical doctor Robert Pearl, former CEO of the Permanente Group; Ginny Bell, who is McCracken’s wife; Joe Bodick, who is Evie Bodick’s husband; Braddock resident/documentarian Tony Buba; Pat Busu, former White House advisor/co-founder of Doctor on Demand; cardiologist Dale Owen, CEO of Tyron Medical Partners; UPMC Presbyterian adminstrative assistant Nila Payton; medical doctor Farzad Mostashari, CEO and primary care expert at Aledade.

Sadly, one of the patients in “InHospitable” did not live to see this documentary released. Maurice Arnett passed away on May 8, 2020, at the age of 54. As much information that “InHospitable” packs in about the healthcare industry, the documentary never loses sight of the real people who are directly affected by healthcare industry problems.

“InHospitable” includes the outcome of the UPMC/Highmark conflict in 2019, and has additional footage from 2020 that addresses the COVID-19 pandemic. However, do not mistake “InHospitable” as a documentary that will become outdated, because it is a foreshadowing of what more people in America will experience if more hospitals make health insurance become a hindrance, not a help, to people who need health care.

Abramorama released “InHospitable” in select U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘Aftershock’ (2022), starring Shawnee Benton Gibson, Omari Maynard, Bruce McIntyre, Helena Grant, Neel Shah, Felicia Ellis and Paul Ellis

September 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Shawnee Benton Gibson and Bruce McIntyre in “Aftershock” (Photo by Kerwin Devonish/Hulu)

“Aftershock” (2022)

Directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Boston, Houston and Tulsa, Oklahoma, the documentary film “Aftershock,” which was filmed from 2019 to 2021, features a predominantly African American group of people (with some white people and a few Asians) talking about the systemic racism in U.S. maternal health care that results in a disproportinately high death rate of African American women who died from childbirth or complications from childbirth.

Culture Clash: Family members of African American women who died in hospitals during childbirth have become activists to try to end systemic racism in maternal health care, but they face uphill battles and resistance from people who want to enable or deny this racism.

Culture Audience: “Aftershock” will appeal mainly to people who are interested seeing true stories about how race relations and social classes affect the type of health care that people get in the United States.

Shawnee Benton Gibson, Omari Maynard and Khari Maynard in “Aftershock” (Photo by Kerwin Devonish/Hulu)

“Aftershock” is a disturbing but necessary documentary to watch for a reality check about how systemic racism in the U.S. health care system has resulted in black women dying after childbirth at disproportionately higher rates than other races. The film isn’t just about spouting statistics and facts, although that important information is included. What will emotionally resonate with viewers the most are the stories of real people whose lives have been permanently changed by these medical injustices.

Directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, “Aftershock” is a no-frills documentary that thankfully isn’t overstuffed with too many talking heads. “Aftershock” (which is Lewis Lee’s feature-film directorial debut) had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where “Aftershock” won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award called Impact for Change. “Aftershock,” which is filmed and edited clearly and concisely, is certainly the type of documentary that will motivate people to want improvements in the U.S. medical care system.

“Aftershock” essentially tells three main stories of African American people who’ve been affected by maternity health care in the United States. Two of the stories are about two families coping with the deaths of a woman in their family who died after childbirth. The third story is about a married couple who have to decide if the pregnant wife will give birth in a hospital or opt for an alternative location. Meanwhile, some experts and activists weigh in with their perspectives and sharing of information.

One of the documentary’s main stories is about the aftermath of the October 2019 death of 30-year-old Shamony Gibson, who died in New York City from pulmonary embolism (blood clotting in the lungs), 13 days after giving birth by C-section to her second child, a son named Khari. “Aftershock” shows how Gibson’s mother Shawnee Benton Gibson and Gibson’s partner Omari Maynard (the father of Khari) became activists as a result of Gibson’s death, which they believe could have been prevented if she received adequate medical care from the medical professionals who knew about her blood clot symptoms.

Before she died, Gibson had been suffering from shortness of breath and chest pains, which are two symptoms of pulmonary embolism. Gibson’s reported these health problems to medical professionals, who dismissed her concerns and told her that she just needed to rest more. According to Gibson’s family, she also was repeatedly asked by medical professionals, “Are you on drugs?”

Gibson was not using drugs, and the medical people were repeatedly told that information, but they didn’t seem to believe it, because they kept asking the same question. The family members believe that the medical people who repeatedly asked this “Are you on drugs?” question would not have been so stubborn in assuming that Gibson was a drug user if Gibson were a white person. They also believe that medical professionals would not have been so quick to dismiss Gibson’s health problems if she were white.

Unfortunately, the hospital where Gibson was taken was underfunded and understaffed. According to Gibson’s family (including her sister Jasmine Gibson, who is interviewed in “Aftershock”), Gibson was taken to the emergency room, where she had to wait 12 hours before getting medical treatment. By then, it was too late. She died at the hospital.

In “Aftershock,” Benton Gibson says that she worked at the hospital as a loyal employee for 25 years and never thought that the hospital would play a role in her daughter’s death. It was a rude and tragic awakening that fuels a lot of Benton Gibson’s activism. One of her biggest messages, particularly to Black women who give birth, is to not be fooled into thinking that what happed to her daughter can’t happen to them.

Another documentary story is about what happened after the April 2020 death of 26-year-old Amber Rose Isaac, who passed away after having a C-section at Montefiore Hospital in New York City’s Bronx borough. Isaac’s son, Elias Isaac McIntyre, survived the C-section, but Isaac did not. Bruce McIntyre (Elias’ father) eventually met Maynard, and they formed a support group for single fathers whose partners died from maternity health care that’s believed to be inadequate and rooted in racism.

While in the hospital for the childbirth, Isaac was diagnosed with HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets) syndrome, a pregnancy complication that affects the blood and liver. Isaac’s family members believe medical negligence caused Isaac’s death and are suing Montefiore Hospital with this claim. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit contends that Isaac could have been diagnosed with HELLP syndrome long before she was in the hospital to give birth. Isaac’s family also believes that Isaac would have received better medical attention if she were white.

The third main story in “Aftershock” follows married couple Felicia Ellis and Paul Ellis as they prepare for the birth of their first child in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Felicia and Paul know about the horror stories about black women (especially low-income black women) getting treated as inferior in the U.S. health care system, compared to women of other races. The documentary shows Felicia and Paul being wary of Felicia going to a hospital for the birth of their child and looking into the birth center Breathe Birth and Wellness as an alternative. The documentary includes footage of Felicia giving birth.

It would be very easy for skeptics to say that people are just being paranoid when it’s pointed out that racism exists in the U.S. health care system. However, plenty of statistics from independent reports back up the racism claims. “Aftershock” has those statistics, which are also publicly available to anyone who wants to find them.

One of the alarming trends is that childbearing black women in the U.S. are more likely than childbearing women of other races to be told that they need a C-section when giving birth. C-sections take less time than vaginal births, but because C-sections are surgeries, women giving birth are more likely to die fom C-sections than from vaginal births. In addition, “Aftershock” points out the cold, hard fact that hospitals get more money from C-sections than they do from vaginal births.

Helena Grant, director of Midwifery at Woodhull Medical Center (a public health facility in New York City), comments in the documentary: “Very early on in my career, black women were used as guinea pigs.” Grant, who is also a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), mentions that people training in obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) in the U.S. usually do their training in hospitals and clinics in low-income communities, which are often largely populated by people of color. These inexperienced OB-GYN professionals are more likely to be the lowest-paid in the OB-GYN field and most likely to make mistakes. And guess who suffers the most as a result?

Multiple people in the documentary mention that Black women are at the most risk of getting the worst maternity health care in the U.S. because of attitudes that still linger from the enslavement of black people in America. Enslaved black women were considered “property,” not human beings, and therefore were not given the health care that people who were not enslaved were entitled to get. There’s also a persistent misconception, stemming from America’s shameful slavery history, that black women are more tolerant of physical pain than women of other races.

“Aftershock” also mentions how patriarchal and sexist attitudes changed practices of assisting during childbirth. Before the 20th century, midwives and home births used to be more common in the U.S. than they are now. During the years when slavery was legal in the U.S., enslaved black women were often the midwives for the white families who enslaved them.

When men wanted to take over the practice of assisting during childbirth and make money from it, the OB-GYN profession was born in the 1700s. In the OB-GYN profession’s earliest years in the U.S., the profession was open only to people who had access to a getting a medical degree, which usually meant white men only. And although medical schools in the U.S. can now enroll people of all races and genders, to this day, most OB-GYN doctors in the U.S. are white men.

“Aftershock” also mentions the money-motivated campaign that began the early 1900s to get more women to go to hospitals to give birth, in order to take business away from midwives who helped women give birth in places other than hospitals. There are certainly advantages to having a doctor rather than a midwife assist in childbirth. However, “Aftershock” shows that more people are considering alternatives to giving birth in a hospital (options include licensed birth centers or home births) if they think the hospital will be giving incompetent care due to a patient’s race.

Neel Shah, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School, comments: “I think the well-being of moms is the bellwether for the well-being of society in general. That’s why every injustice in society shows up in maternal health care.” Shah also notes that it wasn’t until 2018 that the U.S. federal government began tracking maternal health trends. Many racial disparities can be found in these trend reports.

“Aftershock” includes footage of Shah leading an OB-GYN seminar, with McIntyre as a guest speaker. The seminar’s students (who are mostly women of various races) are visibily moved by McIntyre’s story and seem to have learned a lot from his personal account of how racism can affect the health care that someone can get. One of the students speaks to McIntyre after his talk and says to him that she had heard about Isaac’s death on Twitter, but it made a difference to see firsthand how her death affected someone in Isaac’s family.

“Aftershock” also has powerful moments of Benton Gibson, Maynard and McIntyre doing activism work to try to raise awareness about racism in maternity health care and to pass better laws about maternity health care. They attend rallies and do community outreach in these endeavors. In one scene, Benton Gibson passionately testifies during a New York City Council hearing on maternal health. New York City Council member Carolina Rivera expresses her support of Benton Gibson during this hearing.

In New York City’s Brooklyn borough, Maynard and McIntyre choose Weeksville Heritage Center as a meeting place for other single fathers who have experienced similar tragic losses of their partners who died from childbirth-related deaths. Maynard says of this meeting place: “I want to create a space where we can star to try to change policy, where we can have hundreds of thousands of people backing what we’re saying, because that’s the only way it works.”

Maynard, who is an artist who paints portraits, also began painting portraits of other women of color who died as a result of inadequate maternity health care. Maynard has met many of these women’s families through his advocacy/activist work, and he gives these portraits as gifts to the surviving family members. In one of the documentary’s emotionally potent scenes, Maynard gives a portrait of the late Maria Corona to her surviving partner Sam Volrie Jr., who is moved to tears by this gift.

Other people featured in the documentary include registered nurse Giselle Chebny; certfied nurse-midwife Regina Kizer; and Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative executive director LaBrisa Williams; and doulas Nubia Martin, Ashlee Wilson and Myla Flores. Toward the end of the documentary, Maynard and McIntyre are shown making plans to eventually open birth center in the Bronx, with the intention to help low-income pregnant women in particular, since these low-income women are less likely to get the proper medical care that they need.

“Aftershock” is not propaganda for birthing centers, nor is it a sweeping and unfair condemnation of all hospitals and OB-GYN medical professionals. However, the documentary does a very good job at sounding the alarm that pregnant black women in America are more likely to die from inadequate or incompetent medical care than pregnant women of other races. “Aftershock” is an effective presentation of facts and human stories to serve as a reminder that this problem is not just a concern for people of color but for all people who are against racism.

Hulu premiered “Aftershock” and released the movie in select U.S. cinemas on July 19, 2022.

Food and Drug Administration coronavirus update: June 17, 2022


The following is a press release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 to include use in children down to 6 months of age.

  • For the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine, the FDA amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) to include use of the vaccine in individuals 6 months through 17 years of age. The vaccine had been authorized for use in adults 18 years of age and older.
  • For the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, the FDA amended the EUA to include use of the vaccine in individuals 6 months through 4 years of age. The vaccine had been authorized for use in individuals 5 years of age and older.

Key points:

  • The FDA’s evaluation and analysis of the safety, effectiveness and manufacturing data of these vaccines was rigorous and comprehensive, supporting the EUAs.
  • The agency determined that the known and potential benefits of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks in the pediatric populations authorized for use for each vaccine.

  • Prior to making the decision to authorize these vaccines for the respective pediatric populations, the FDA’s independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee was consulted and voted in support of the authorizations.

Many parents, caregivers and clinicians have been waiting for a vaccine for younger children and this action will help protect those down to 6 months of age.  As we have seen with older age groups, we expect that the vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. “Those trusted with the care of children can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines and can be assured that the agency was thorough in its evaluation of the data.”

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is administered as a primary series of two doses, one month apart, to individuals 6 months through 17 years of age. The vaccine is also authorized to provide a third primary series dose at least one month following the second dose for individuals in this age group who have been determined to have certain kinds of immunocompromise.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is administered as a primary series of three doses in which the initial two doses are administered three weeks apart followed by a third dose administered at least eight weeks after the second dose in individuals 6 months through 4 years of age.

Information about each vaccine is available in the fact sheets for healthcare providers administering vaccine and the fact sheets for recipients and caregivers.

“As with all vaccines for any population, when authorizing COVID-19 vaccines intended for pediatric age groups, the FDA ensures that our evaluation and analysis of the data is rigorous and thorough,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “In addition to making certain the data for these vaccines met FDA’s rigorous standards, the agency’s convening of an advisory committee was part of a transparent process to help the public have a clear understanding of the safety and effectiveness data supporting the authorization of these two vaccines for pediatric populations.”

Evaluation of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine for Individuals 6 Months through 17 Years of Age


The effectiveness and safety data evaluated and analyzed by the FDA for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine to support the EUA for these pediatric populations were generated in two ongoing, randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials in the United States and Canada which enrolled infants, children and adolescents.

  • Children 6 months through 5 years of age: Immune responses of a subset of 230 children 6 through 23 months and a subset of 260 children 2 through 5 years of age who received a two-dose primary series of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at 25 micrograms (mcg) of messenger RNA (mRNA) per dose were compared to immune responses among 290 adults 18 through 25 years who received two higher doses of the vaccine in a previous study which determined the vaccine to be effective in preventing COVID-19. In these FDA analyses, the immune response to the vaccine, of both age groups of children, was comparable to the immune response of the adults.

    An analysis of cases of COVID-19 occurring at least 14 days after the second dose among approximately 5,400 children in this age group without evidence of prior infection with SARS-CoV-2 was conducted during the time period in which the omicron variant was the predominant circulating strain. In this analysis, among participants 6 through 23 months of age, 64% of whom had blinded follow-up for more than two months after the second dose, the vaccine was 50.6% effective in preventing COVID-19. Among participants 2 through 5 years of age, 72% of whom had blinded follow-up for more than two months after the second dose, the vaccine was 36.8% effective in preventing COVID-19.

  • Children 6 years through 11 years of age: Immune responses of a subset of 320 children in this age group who received a two-dose primary series of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at 50 mcg of mRNA per dose were compared to immune responses among 295 adults 18 through 25 years who received two higher doses of the vaccine in a previous study which determined the vaccine to be effective in preventing COVID-19. In the FDA analysis, the immune response of the children to the vaccine was comparable to the immune response of the adults. An additional analysis pertaining to the occurrence of COVID-19 cases was determined not to be reliable due to the low number of COVID-19 cases that occurred in study participants.
  • Adolescents 12 through 17 years of age: Immune responses of a subset of 340 adolescents in this age group who received a two-dose primary series of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at 100 mcg of mRNA per dose were compared to immune responses among 296 adults 18 through 25 years who received two equivalent doses of the vaccine in a previous study which determined the vaccine to be effective in preventing COVID-19. In this analysis, the immune response of adolescents was comparable to the immune response of the older participants.

    An analysis was also conducted of cases of COVID-19 occurring at least 14 days after the second dose among approximately 3,000 adolescents in this age group without evidence of prior infection with SARS-CoV-2, in which approximately 42% of participants had two or more months of blinded follow-up after the second dose. In this analysis, among participants 12 through 17 years of age, the vaccine was 93.3% effective in preventing COVID-19. The data for this analysis were obtained before the omicron variant became the predominant circulating strain.


The safety data to support the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine EUA in individuals 6 months through 17 years of age are as follows:

  • Children 6 months through 5 years of age: Safety was evaluated in approximately 1,700 children 6 through 23 months of age who received the vaccine and 600 who received the placebo. Of these, approximately 1,100 vaccine recipients were followed for safety for at least two months following the second dose. For participants 2 through 5 years of age, approximately 3,000 received the vaccine and approximately 1,000 received a placebo; approximately 2,200 vaccine recipients were followed for safety for at least two months following the second dose. In clinical trial participants 6 months through 5 years of age, the most commonly reported side effects across all age subgroups included pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, fever and underarm (or groin) swelling/tenderness of lymph nodes in the same arm (or thigh) as the injection. In clinical trial participants 6 through 36 months of age, the most commonly reported side effects also included irritability/crying, sleepiness, and loss of appetite. In clinical trial participants 37 months through 5 years of age, the most commonly reported side effects also included fatigue, headache, muscle ache, chills, nausea/vomiting and joint stiffness.
  • Children 6 through 11 years of age: Safety was evaluated in approximately 3,000 children who received the vaccine and approximately 1,000 children who received placebo. The majority of vaccine recipients (98.7%) had at least two months of safety follow-up after their second dose.
  • Adolescents 12 through 17 years of age: Safety was evaluated in approximately 2,500 participants who received the vaccine and 1,200 who received placebo. The majority of vaccine recipients (95.6%) had at least six months of follow-up after the second dose.

The most commonly reported side effects in the clinical trial participants for both the 6 through 11 age group and the 12 through 17 age group who received the vaccine include, pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, underarm swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting and fever.

Evaluation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Children 6 Months through 4 Years of Age

The effectiveness and safety data evaluated and analyzed by the FDA for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine were generated in an ongoing, randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial in the United States and internationally, which enrolled infants and children.


  • The effectiveness data to support the EUA in children 6 months through 4 years of age is based on a comparison of immune responses following three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in a subset of children in this age group to the immune responses among adults 16 through 25 years of age who received two higher doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in a previous study which determined the vaccine to be effective in preventing COVID-19. The study was conducted in two age subgroups. The immune response to the vaccine of approximately 80 children, 6 through 23 months of age, and approximately 140 children, 2 through 4 years of age, were compared to the immune response of approximately 170 of the older participants. In these FDA analyses, the immune response to the vaccine for both age groups of children was comparable to the immune response of the older participants. An additional analysis pertaining to the occurrence of COVID-19 cases was determined not to be reliable due to the low number of COVID-19 cases that occurred in study participants.


  • The available safety data to support the EUA in children 6 through 23 months of age include approximately 1,170 who received the vaccine and approximately 600 who received placebo; approximately 400 vaccine recipients were followed for safety for at least two months following the third dose. For the participants 2 through 4 years of age, approximately 1,800 received the vaccine and approximately 900 received placebo; approximately 600 vaccine recipients were followed for safety for at least two months following the third dose. The most commonly reported side effects in clinical trial participants 6 through 23 months of age who received the vaccine were irritability, decreased appetite, fever and pain, tenderness, redness and swelling at the injection site. These side effects were also reported for the vaccine recipients 2 through 4 years age, in addition to fever, headache, and chills.

Risks of Myocarditis and Pericarditis

The FDA and CDC safety surveillance systems have previously identified increased risks of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of tissue surrounding the heart) following vaccination with the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, particularly following the second dose. The observed risk is highest in males 18 through 24 years of age for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and in males 12 through 17 years of age for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.

The FDA and the CDC analyses of available safety surveillance data from the U.S. and other countries on myocarditis outcomes continue to strengthen the evidence that most cases of myocarditis associated with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are characterized by rapid resolution of symptoms following conservative management, with no impact on quality of life reported by most patients who were contacted for follow-up at 90 days or more after reporting myocarditis. The risks of myocarditis and pericarditis are described in the fact sheets for each of these vaccines.

Ongoing Safety Monitoring

As part of their original EUA requests, both ModernaTX Inc. and Pfizer Inc. submitted plans to continue to monitor the safety of the vaccines as they are used under EUA. These plans for monitoring the overall safety of the vaccines and ensuring that any safety concerns are identified and evaluated in a timely manner, and which include monitoring for myocarditis and pericarditis, have been updated to include the newly authorized populations. In addition, longer-term safety follow-up is ongoing for participants enrolled in the clinical trials for both vaccines. Furthermore, the FDA and the CDC have several systems in place to continually monitor COVID-19 vaccine safety and allow for the timely detection and investigation of potential safety concerns.

It is mandatory for both ModernaTX Inc. and Pfizer Inc., as well as vaccination providers, to report the following to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) for these two COVID-19 vaccines: serious adverse events, cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome and cases of COVID-19 that result in hospitalization or death. It is also mandatory for vaccination providers to report all vaccine administration errors to VAERS for which they become aware and for vaccine manufacturers to include a summary and analysis of all identified vaccine administration errors in monthly safety reports submitted to the FDA.

The EUA amendment for the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine was issued to ModernaTX Inc. and the EUA amendment for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was issued to Pfizer Inc.

Additional Resources:

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Review: ‘Eggs Over Easy,’ starring Keshia Knight Pulliam, Andra Day and Kellee Stewart

April 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Keshia Knight Pulliam in “Eggs Over Easy” (Photo courtesy of OWN)

“Eggs Over Easy”

Directed by Chiquita Lockley

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States, the documentary film “Eggs Over Easy” features a group of predominantly African American people (with one white person and one Latina) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Black women in the United States have various fertility and reproductive issues that are affected by racial inequalities in health care and cultural expectations when it comes to motherhood. 

Culture Audience: “Eggs Over Easy” will appeal primarily to people interested in stories about reproductive issues from an African American female perspective.

Charmaine Broome and Terrio Broome in “Eggs Over Easy” (Photo courtesy of OWN)

“Eggs Over Easy” has the subtitle “Black Women & Fertility,” but the documentary really focuses on a specific group of black women: African Americans who are middle-class and can afford fertility treatments. A truly comprehensive documentary about black women and fertility would have to include black women from many other countries, where access to fertility-related health care can vary and largely depends on how much of this health care is dispensed by a nation’s government or profit-oriented companies. Although “Eggs Over Easy” is a very American-centric documentary, it offers an impressive array of topics and opinions about fertility and parenthood from various women who are mothers, who want to be mothers, and who don’t want to be mothers at all.

Chiquita Lockley is the director, writer and one of the executive producers of “Eggs Over Easy,” which is narrated by actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who is among the women interviewed in the documentary. The movie starts out with a bold statement that people need to hear more often before they ask women if or when she plans to have children: “Don’t ask a woman what her intentions are for her uterus. It’s none of your business.”

Of course, there are exceptions, such as when it actually is someone’s business to ask. Obstetricians and anyone who plans to have a child with a woman need to ask questions about motherhood plans. But for anyone else, those questions walk a fine line between being curious and being rudely intrusive, because motherhood is a touchy and very personal subject for a lot of women. When in doubt, just wait for a woman to bring up the subject instead of putting her in a position to answer a question that she might not feel comfortable answering.

“Eggs Over Easy” very much takes the perspective that a woman has the right to choose how, when or if she becomes a mother. The movie covers the topics of in vitro fertilization (IVF), freezing eggs, pregnancy complications, surrogacy, adoption, and the choice not to have any children at all. It’s a lot to pack in a documentary that’s less than 90 minutes long, but “Eggs Over Easy” does so in a cohesive way that’s engaging and easy for anyone to understand.

The movie takes the approach of having people share their personal stories, instead of getting bogged down in a lot of medical jargon. “Eggs Over Easy” also does not discuss abortion and the political divide around abortion. Most of the interviewees are people who are mothers or who want to become mothers. However, the movie should be commended in acknowledging that not every woman wants to become a mother, and there should be no stigma attached to that choice.

“Eggs Over Easy” mentions that this documentary was made because infertility and miscarriages are still taboo subjects for many African Americans, who might not be as open to talking about these issues as white people are. Part of the reason has to do with racial inequalities related to fertility health care. It should come as no surprise that white women in the United States are much more likely to be able to afford IVF treatments than women of other races. The documentary cites a few medical studies and statistics to prove it.

According to medical information in the documentary, the three most common reasons why infertile black women have a hard time conceiving children are fibroids, endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And the statistics for black women are pretty grim when it comes to conceiving children, according to Dr. Amsu Anpu of the Aboriginal Medical Association, who says that African American women are four times more likely to have fibroids than women of any other race. African American women also have more hysterectomies than any other women in the world.

Gessie Thompson, a nutritionist and health coach, tells her story about having fibroids and the very painful process she went through to conceive and give birth to a child. Thompson first went public on a national platform about her fertility story in 2014, when she was featured in an Essence magazine article about it. In “Eggs Over Easy,” Thompson said this Essence article opened a floodgate of positive and sometimes heartbreaking feedback from other black women who told her they what they experienced in their motherhood journeys.

“Eggs Over Easy” also follows the IVF journey of married couple Charmaine Brooke and Tarrio Brooke, as they try to have their first child together. The chronicle includes an inside look at their appointments with fertility doctors, as well as the couple’s candid thoughts on how IVF treatments have deeply impacted their lives. Of course, there are tearful moments too, when those IVF treatments don’t result in a pregnancy, or when the stress of anticipating the results becomes too much.

Singer/actress Andra Day appears briefly in the documentary to talk about her decision to freeze her eggs while in her 30s. It was a decision also made by businesswoman Jonita Mizelle, who says she chose to freeze her eggs when she was “38, not 42.” It’s an option that actress Kellee Stewart says she considered taking while also in her 30s.

Stewart says that she was in her 30s when a seven-year relationship with a boyfriend ended. She had to face the reality that she gave what she called her “best baby-making years” to this relationship, and she had to figure out what she wanted to do if any children she had would be from her own eggs. In the documentary, Stewart also says that fertility tests should be a standard procedure for women who want these tests when visiting a gynecologist—and not something that only happens when a woman is going through a fertility crisis.

Knight Pulliam also talks about her journey to motherhood, which included being pregnant in 2016 while going through a very difficult divorce from former football player Edgerton “Ed” Hartwell, who publicly questioned if he was the father of the child. Their daughter, Ella Grace, was born in January 2017, a year after the former couple’s wedding. (A paternity test proved that Hartwell is Ella’s biological father.) Knight Pulliam has since gotten married again. She and actor Brad James wed in 2021.

Women who didn’t have problems conceiving share their emotionally harrowing stories about losing their babies to miscarriages or stillbirths. Tanya James says she was ashamed of talking about her miscarriage until she went public with it and found out that many people in her life went through the same thing. Jamila Hauser talks about having a stillbirth of a baby girl and was still recovering from it when she saw an “Oprah Winfrey Show” episode about infertility that helped her get through some of the emotional pain.

When she was 30 years old, Tanya Cobb had a stillbirth of a 5-month-old baby. Cobb says part of the healing process is talking about the trauma: “In order to take care of us mentally, spiritually and physically, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.” The general consensus is that professional counseling is recommended for people going through fertility issues or who have experienced the death of child. People who can’t afford to hire professionals can usually find free support groups online.

For women who cannot or will not conceive children but want to become mothers, surrogacy is an option for those who have the financial means to do so. The documentary includes interviews with a surrogate named Keisha Shroeder and with Eloise Drane, an egg donor who started a fertility agency for women of color called Family Inceptions. Drane says that the 2016 dramatic movie “When the Bough Breaks”—which is about a surrogate who becomes a nightmare for the couple who hired her—is a completely unrealistic fantasy of what most surrogacy experiences are like. Drane states that most reputable fertility agencies do rigorous background checks and vetting of surrogate applicants before accepting surrogates into their programs.

Adoption is another choice for women who want to become mothers, including “Eggs Over Easy” interviewees Denise Hendricks and Joan Baskett. Hendricks says that, as a single woman of a certain age, she chose adoption after she decided that she didn’t want to have a child through a surrogate and a sperm donor. Of course, the down side to adoption is that it’s usually a lot longer process than surrogacy, especially if the desired child would be the age of a baby at adoption.

As for women who are child-free by choice, Kawana Mitchell and doctor of physical therapy Tracy Adams are two women in the documentary who say they never want to become mothers. It’s mentioned that being a woman who chooses not to have children is perceived by some people as much more taboo to talk about than miscarriages, stillbirths and infertility. People who have hangups about women not wanting to become mothers usually have very backwards and sexist views of a lot of things, because men who don’t want to become parents aren’t shamed as much as women who feel the same way.

Other people interviewed or featured in the documentary include fertility experts, such as obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Caryn Johnson; Dr. Richard Paulson, president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine; Dr. Rimani Kelsey Rogers; Dr. Kristen Abatisis McHenry; Dr. Camille Hammond; Dr. Maribelle Verdialis; and Dr. Monica Best. Also weighing in with their opinions are licensed professional counselor Robin May (whose specialty is in counseling black women); Tara Young; Taylor Mitchell; and Robin Smith, a woman who had adenomyosis but was misdiagnosed with having cervical cancer.

The technical production aspects of “Eggs Over Easy” are adequate and avoid being too flashy. The movie has a few scenes with sound mixing issues, where the audio in the scene has too much echo, but the content of the documentary is very informative. The filmmakers also chose interviewees who tell their stories in compelling ways. The “Eggs Over Easy” editors should be commended for fitting so many details in a clear and concise manner.

“Eggs Over Easy” is not boring, but it’s not a documentary that anyone can enjoy. Some of the topics might be too emotionally heavy for some people, while other people just won’t find anything to relate to at all in this movie. You don’t have to be an African American woman to relate to the documentary, but viewers who will appreciate this movie the most are those who want to hear a wide variety of viewpoints from African American women about fertility and motherhood.

OWN and Discovery+ premiered “Eggs Over Easy” on January 4, 2022.

U.S. airlines lift COVID-19 pandemic mask mandates for domestic travel: Complete list of current rules

April 19, 2022

by Frances Peterson

An airport traveler during the COVID-19 mask mandates (Photo by Anna Shvets)

This article will be updated with any breaking news.

As of April 18, 2022, all major U.S. airlines are no longer requiring face masks for passengers and employees on domestic flights (within the United States). This mask mandate had been set to expire on April 18, 2022. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to keep the airline mask mandate in place until May 3, 2022, to further study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of COVID-19. The move come after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, ruled that the federal mask mandate exceeded the authority of the CDC, and the Joe Biden administration agreed with the ruling. Late in the day on April 18, 2022, U.S. airlines began announcing that their mask requirements were now lifted.

Because of the COVD-19 pandemic, U.S. airlines began requiring face masks for all passengers and employees in May 2020. (People were allowed not to wear masks while eating and drinking.) The mask requirement became a federal mandate in January 2021, and it affected U.S. airlines that are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration. The airlines had been pushing for a lift of mask requirements due to a reported massive increase in physical altercations, harassment and verbal abuse that airline employees experienced from passengers who do not want to wear face masks. Even though the mask mandate has been lifted, airline passengers and employees have the option to war face masks if they choose to do so.

It’s important to remember that the liftings of mask restrictions listed above apply to U.S.-based airlines for flights traveling within the United States. Airlines based outside the U.S. and airplane flights outside the U.S. might have different policies. In addition, policies for wearing masks might vary for international airports outside of the United States. If you are traveling outside the U.S., find out the mask policies for the airline and airport before you go to the airport.

Here statements from each of the major U.S.-based airlines, as of April 19, 2022:


Face masks have been like boarding passes for nearly two years — you couldn’t fly without one. But, as of today, masks are optional in airports and onboard aircraft, effective immediately. 

Due to a judicial decision in our federal court system, the mask mandate has been overturned, which means our guests and employees have the option to wear a mask while traveling in the U.S. and at work.

Note: Guests must continue to wear masks on flights both to and from Canada. Masks must still be worn in airports within Canada and Mexico.

Safety is always our highest priority, so while we love to see your smiling faces in the airport and on board, we respect your decision to keep using this added layer of protection. Above all, we hope you’ll treat each other with kindness and respect throughout the travel journey and beyond. 

It has been a long 24 months with nearly constant change. I could not be prouder of our frontline employees who have handled every pivot focusing on safety and the care we’re known for,” said Max Tidwell, VP of safety & security at Alaska Airlines. “We’re also thankful for our guests who remained considerate, patient and stood by us throughout every twist and turn.” 

Even as more pandemic protocols and policies ease, our team will remain vigilant and prepared for whatever may come next. Safety remains our top priority. And while we sincerely hope most of these challenges are in our rear-view mirror, we are confident we will be ready to respond if faced with another COVID wave or even a new virus. 

What happens to guests who were banned because of not following our previous mask policy? Throughout the last two years, we have relied on reporting from agents and flight attendants to ban noncompliant guests from traveling while the federal mask policy remained in effect. Based on our reports, we will have some guests whose behavior was particularly egregious who will remain banned, even after the mask policy is rescinded.  

As always, we will continue to hold safety as our highest value. Thank you again to our loyal guests and team of 22,000 people who came together over the last two years to do the right thing and take care of one another. We’ve proven we can do anything together.  


American Airlines has prioritized the health and safety of its team members and customers throughout the pandemic and has supported the federal government’s measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration no longer enforcing the federal face mask mandate, face masks will no longer be required for our customers and team members at U.S. airports and on domestic flights. Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements. In keeping with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment for everyone who travels with us, customers and team members may choose to continue to wear masks at their own discretion. We are deeply grateful to our team members for their enforcement of the mandate, and will share more information about this transition in the coming days.


Facemasks are no longer required on Breeze flights for both Guests and Team Members.
Please be kind and respectful of individual choices, and remember that wearing a mask while flying on Breeze is still an option.


Following the ruling of a U.S. district court judge on Monday, the Biden administration announced that the Transportation Security Administration will no longer enforce the federal mandate requiring masks in all U.S. airports and on board aircraft. Effective immediately, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and on board all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights.

Delta employees and customers may continue wearing masks if they so choose. Wearing a well-fitting mask –  such as a KN95 – protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks, according to our Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting.

Given the unexpected nature of this announcement, please be aware that customers, airline employees and federal agency employees, such as TSA, may be receiving this information at different times. You may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated – remember to show understanding and patience with others who may not be aware enforcement is no longer required. Communications to customers and in-airport signage and announcements will be updated to share that masking is now optional – this may take a short period of time.

Local mask mandates in other countries may still be in effect. Additional updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus – with better treatments, vaccines and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness. Thank you for your support in complying with the federal mask mandate and keeping each other safe during the pandemic.


To mask or not to mask, the choice is yours. Masks are now optional on domestic flights, however, certain airports or countries may still require masks, so check the policy at your destination prior to departure and we’ll see you in the sky.


In alignment with TSA’s Security Directive, face masks are optional for our guests and employees onboard Hawaiian Airlines flights. We advise travelers to stay informed and follow mask requirements that may remain in effect at their origin or arrival airports. Guests who wish to continue wearing face masks are welcome to do so. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we update our communications and announcements to reflect this change.


In line with Monday’s federal court ruling and the Transportation Security Administration’s guidance, mask wearing will now be optional on JetBlue. While no longer required, customers and crewmembers are welcome to continue wearing masks in our terminals and on board our aircraft.

Regardless of the U.S. rule change, customers and crew members who are traveling internationally should always have a mask with them in case they continue to be required at their destination. 

We are working to proactively share this update with our customers and crewmembers, so please be patient as we update our communications.   


On Monday, a federal judge issued a decision stating the federal mask mandate for public transportation, including on airlines and at airports, is no longer in effect. Thereafter, the White House announced the masking order is not in effect, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not enforce the federal mask mandate at this time.

As a result of this development, effective immediately, Southwest Employees and Customers will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask on flights, at domestic ​airports, and at some international locations. We encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing. Additionally, Southwest will continue supporting the comfort of those who travel with us by offering additional layers of protection, including sophisticated cabin air ventilation systems onboard our aircraft which incorporate HEPA air filtration that removes at least 99.97% of airborne particles.

We appreciate the cooperation and compliance efforts of our Customers and Employees as policies have evolved. We’ll continue to monitor public health guidance, and federal requirements, while always keeping safety as our uncompromising priority. 

For additional information, we also invite you to contact Airlines for America, our trade association, for an industry perspective on this development.


 Face masks are now optional for Spirit Team Members and Guests onboard our flights following the federal court ruling and TSA guidance.

We understand some Guests may want to continue wearing face coverings on flights, and that’s perfectly fine under our optional policy. For our Guests traveling internationally, please remember to check country-specific airport requirements before traveling.


Thank you Sun Country guests for your patience and for masking up. Effective immediately, wearing a mask on Sun Country flights is optional for our passengers and employees. We look forward to seeing your smiles on board and encourage kindness and respect for those who continue to mask.


Masks are no longer required on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s requirements) or at U.S. airports. More comfortable keeping yours on? Go right ahead… the choice is yours.

While this means that our employees are no longer required to wear a mask—and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public—they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the event of changes.

Smithsonian Channel and partners launch the Color of Care campaign to eliminate racial disparities in healthcare

April 18, 2022

The following is a press release from Smithsonian Channel:

Smithsonian Channel has revealed the trailer for The Color of Care documentary and impact campaign, a multi-platform effort to catalyze a movement to eliminate racial disparities in the delivery of U.S. healthcare. The year-long campaign will reach current and future medical professionals as well as impacted communities and policymakers at all government levels to advance solutions toward health equity.

The Color of Care education campaign will work to prepare current and future doctors, nurses and medical professionals to play an active role in combating systemic racism in the delivery of healthcare, as well as provide others with the necessary tools to address this issue and advocate for and empower patients who experience these inequities. This effort follows the premiere of The Color of Care film, produced in partnership between Smithsonian Channel, Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning director Yance Ford, who also serves as director.

The original documentary, which chronicles how people of color suffer from systemically substandard healthcare in the United States and how COVID-19 exposed the tragic consequences of these inequities, serves as an impetus for a vital reckoning around health equity and is part of a broader effort driven by Smithsonian Channel to move conversation and action around this topic forward.

“The COVID crisis has exposed gross inequalities in our healthcare system which, if left unaddressed, will again disproportionately impact people of color during the next health emergency,” said James Blue, Head, Smithsonian Channel(TM). “This campaign will work to address these inequalities.”

The campaign will feature multiple activations over the coming months including a digital series highlighting changemakers disrupting the healthcare system, curricular materials for classrooms, and a national grassroots screening tour of The Color of Care film that engages medical and nursing schools, professional healthcare networks and associations, healthcare and medical journalists, non-profit organizations, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Some of the campaigns’ current partners include:

· Paramount’s Content for Change initiative, which seeks to transform the entire creative ecosystem by supporting inclusive creators and content.

· Leading social impact agency Picture Motion Campaigns is providing strategy advisement, curated partnerships, development of a Digital Impact Hub, creation of supplementary educational materials, and grassroots screening activations in key communities to further the movement.

· The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which is dedicated to transforming health through medical education, health care, medical research, and community collaborations, is a campaign collaborator for medical-school focused screenings.

· The Smithsonian Channel has teamed up with TikTok to exclusively livestream a panel event with MTV News for “The Color of Care,” that will bring together experts to discuss the racial inequities in healthcare and how viewers can take action to address this issue. The panel, hosted by MTV’s Nessa with an introduction by Oprah Winfrey, will stream exclusively @smithsonianchannel on TikTok on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, at 7pm ET and features health policy expert and Executive Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine Daniel E. Dawes, JD; Associate Professor of Social Epidemiology at Ohio State and the founder, director and principal investigator of the Social Epidemiology to Eliminate Disparities (SEED) Lab Shawnita Sealy-Jefferson, PhD, MPH; and family medicine physician and co-founder of The Coalition to Advance Antiracism in Medicine (CAAM) Brittani James, MD.

· PBS Newshour Classroom will develop a series of lesson plans that provide middle and high school teachers and students with opportunities to learn about the history of racism in medical care in the United States and explore solutions connected to current events.

· Smithsonian Affiliations is collaborating with Affiliate organizations around the country to support the campaign through screenings, panel conversations, and digital amplification.

· Bloomberg Philanthropies is an official campaign funder. Its Greenwood Initiative, which aims to accelerate the pace of wealth accumulation for Black individuals and families and address systemic under investment in Black communities, will partner to raise awareness. The Bloomberg Philanthropies Greenwood Initiative has given $100 million to the nation’s four historically Black medical schools to both increase the number of Black doctors in the U.S. by significantly reducing the debt burden of Black medical students, and to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines through mobile vaccine units. Bloomberg Philanthropies is a global leader of public health programs and launched a series of efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, including in the U.S.

The Color of Care premieres on May 1, 2022 at 8/7c on the Smithsonian Channel in the United States and Canada, with premieres in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and across Latin America shortly afterwards in early May. The film will also premiere simultaneously, for free, on Smithsonian Channel Selects on Pluto TV in the United States.

To join in on conversations about the film, along with the ongoing Social Impact campaign, use the hashtag #TheColorOfCare.

MTV Entertainment Group

MTV Entertainment Group is a one of the preeminent youth media companies in the world that connects with global audiences through its nine iconic brands – MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, CMT, Pop, Logo, Smithsonian Channel, Paramount Network and TV Land – as well as MTV Entertainment Studios, which produces acclaimed series and movies and the award-winning MTV Documentary Films.


Harpo Productions is the production division of Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia company Harpo, Inc. The company produces premium film, television, digital and social media content and is based in Los Angeles.

Review: ‘The Body Fights Back,’ starring Josephine Morondiya, Imogen Fox, Rory Brown, Hannah Webb and Michaela Ginghell

August 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Attendees of The Real Catwalk, a “flash mob” event promoting body positivity in London in 2019, in “The Body Fights Back” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“The Body Fights Back”

Directed by Marian Võsumets

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the London area, the documentary film “The Body Fights Back” features a predominantly white group of people (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Most of the people in the documentary speak out against diet culture, which they say can do psychological and physical harm to people who think being thin is the answer to happiness.

Culture Audience: “The Body Fights Back” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in getting a sociological context for why diet culture has become so pervasive and what can be done to prevent people from falling into diet culture’s dangerous traps.

Josephine “Mojo” Morondiya in “The Body Fights Back” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The documentary film “The Body Fights Back” is very up front with its agenda: It’s a blistering indictment of the harm caused by diet culture and the diet industry’s responsibility in causing this damage. This movie does not promote obesity or unhealthy eating habits. Instead, it examines what causes people to believe the myth that being thin automatically equals happiness. There’s also considerable discussion about what can be done to foster a culture where people can have more acceptance of various body types for themselves and others.

“The Body Fights Back” is the feature-film debut of Estonian director Marian Võsumets, who chose to focus most of her interviews and other filmed footage on people who live in the London area. The documentary could have benefited from a wider inclusion of people who live in countries outside of the United Kingdom. A few people in the U.S. and Australia are interviewed by videoconference calls, but viewers can assume that the filmmakers had budget constraints that prevented them from traveling around the world to get a truly global and in-person view of this problem. The perspectives voiced in the movie are a fairly good representation of what many people in Western countries experience and think about diet culture.

It’s important to distinguish between “diet culture” and “health and fitness culture.” “The Body Fights Back” is not a criticism of health and fitness culture, which is when people want to take care of their bodies in healthy ways through diet and exercise. By contrast, diet culture promotes the idea that only thin or toned people are healthy and happy, and that in order to achieve a certain level of health and happiness, people need to diet by whatever means necessary.

Diet culture has been sold to people as an aspirational lifestyle, and it has become a gigantic industry that generates billions in profits. Although men and boys can certainly get caught up in diet culture and in wanting to look a certain way, women and girls are more likely to develop the most harmful effects of diet culture—eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. Bodybuilding and weight lifting (which can lead to steroid abuse) often overlap with diet culture, since people who are obsessed with having certain muscle tones are usually obsessed with dieting.

The documentary interviews several experts who give their opinions of diet culture, but the movie also puts a spotlight on five individuals (in their 20s or 30s) who have personally experienced the harmful effects of diet culture. These five people are:

  • Rory Brown, a personal fitness trainer who says he developed an eating disorder when he was obsessed with his diet and workout routines.
  • Imogen Fox, who has gone through extreme weight gain and weight loss that have left her with permanent health damage.
  • Michaela Ginghell, who has had lifelong insecurities about being big and tall.
  • Josephine “Mojo” Morondiya, who has been plus-sized all of her life and admits that her past childhood traumas have contributed to her weight issues.
  • Hannah Webb, a recovering anorexic who developed her eating disorder when she was 15.

According to what these five interview subjects talk about in the documentary, they all have something in common: They admit that they had low self-esteem since their childhoods. Some of them have been in therapy over these self-esteem issues, but acceptance of their bodies is still a daily struggle for them.

The general consensus in the documentary is that people with harmful obesity and/or eating disorders need to be treated for psychological issues that are causing these health problems instead of thinking that changing their diets will be enough. Diet culture can take advantage of people who are vulnerable to insecurities about their bodies. And in many cases, the results are disastrous and dangerous to people’s health.

Brown says that when he was a kid, he got constant criticism from certain family members. It spilled over into how he felt about his physical looks, and he began to think, “When I look like this [toned], then I’ll be happy.” He confesses that he became addicted to fitness workouts and weight lifting in his quest to make himself look muscular.

For years, Brown says, he thought of food of being in two categories: “good” or “bad.” And so, he was fanatical about counting the food calories that he would consume. He got into the habit of having grueling workout sessions every day, and then “rewarding” himself about once a week by eating piles of junk food in one sitting.

Brown says that he would often force himself to vomit if he felt like he over-ate. And the binging caused him enough shame that he would over-exert himself in workouts, out of fear of gaining wait from his eating binges. “I started to lose my mind,” he says. He also admits his diet/workout obsession ended up ruining a relationship that he had with a girlfriend.

Brown adds that he didn’t understand until it was almost too late that this vicious cycle of extreme dieting and binging was the very definition of an eating disorder. He credits his recovery to being in therapy. And now, he says that he no longer sets rules for himself on what he can and cannot eat. He also imparts the same philosophy to his clients as a fitness trainer.

Fox was very overweight for most of her life. At one point, she had to use a wheelchair to move around, so she knows what it’s like to experience discrimination as a disabled person. Her eating habits got so damaging that she was hospitalized for lung failure, heart failure and sepsis. She lost such a drastic amount of weight in a short period of time that she now has very wrinkled, sagging skin on her abdomen, arms and legs. She also has a breathing apparatus implanted in her chest. And she says that social gatherings that involve food still give her some anxiety.

In the documentary, Fox says one of the lowest points in her up-and-down weight journey was when she was in the hospital, and a nurse started lecturing Fox while Fox was suffering on the hospital bed. Fox was conscious but unable to respond because of a tube in her mouth. According to Fox, the nurse berated her and shamed her by saying that Fox wouldn’t have been in this situation if she hadn’t been overweight.

Fox says that even though she now has a thin physique, most people wouldn’t know that underneath her clothes, she has sagging skin wrinkles where parts of her body had excessive fat. She comments that people come up to her and tell her that she looks great simply because she’s thin. She says it’s an example of how people have no idea that she has health problems and assume she’s healthy because she’s thin on the outside.

Fox credits her wife with helping her through tough times in this difficult weight journey. Fox says that being in a relationship with her lifetime love partner gave her the motivation not go back to the type of weight that almost killed Fox. “I wanted to transform,” she says of her weight loss to a healthier size.

Ginghell says that being big and tall made her the target of teasing and bullying when she was in school. And she says that when her parents got divorced when she was 8 years old, it deeply affected her. Her father was very strict about what types of food she could eat, while her mother was very lenient. The mixed messages confused her and added to her turmoil about her body weight.

Ginghell comments, “Growing up, I definitely turned to food to escape.” She says she knew her eating habits were becoming a serious issue when her father took her to a dietician. At the time the documentary was filmed, Ginghell says she’s still struggling with being a certain size, but she’s trying to learn not to let herself or other people make her feel bad about it.

Morondiya, who has the liveliest personality of all the interview subjects, believes that almost everyone who has eating disorders or who over-eats is in some kind of emotional pain and is trying to compensate for it by how and what they eat. She includes herself in this profile, because she says she’s a survivor of abuse and has had lifelong issues with low self-esteem.

“My biological mother was really abusive to me and my body,” Morondiya says. “And that’s when I started really hating who I was. She’d always say to me that my face was beautiful and I was really pretty, but it was a shame that my body didn’t match. And hearing that, your mum’s voice becomes your voice. You are the product of your environment.”

Morondiya also opens up about being a survivor of sexual abuse. She says that she was molested by a biological family member when she was an underage child. “That was never really dealt with,” she says of this abuse. “I was told it was my fault. ”

More sexual abuse continued in her life when she was raped at age 13. She got involved in a series of abusive relationships as an adult, which she describes as letting people violate her body because she didn’t respect herself. Morondiya says that she’s still working on her self-esteem, but she’s in a much better place now than she was in the past because she’s learning that she doesn’t need other people’s approval to like herself.

Hannah Webb talks about her harrowing experience being hospitalized for anorexia for several months. Her illness caused her to drop out of school. Her mother Joyce Webb, who’s also interviewed in the documentary, says she still feels guilty for not having noticed earlier that Hannah’s initial weight loss might have been a sign of something more disturbing. Hannah says that she developed an eating disorder around the same time that her father had been diagnosed with throat cancer and she was being teased at school because of how she looked.

Hannah comments that her parents, other family members and her close friends (whom she all describes as loving and supportive) helped save her life because they didn’t give up on her, even though she often wanted to give up on herself. Mother and daughter also talk about how Hannah had a hard time adjusting to recovery at first because food was really a control issue for her, and she angrily resented anyone who told her what to eat.

Kimberly Wilson, a chartered psychologist, explains in the documentary: “Eating disorders are never about food. When something goes wrong with eating, we know there’s something [else] really fundamentally going wrong. That’s why treatments for eating disorders are long and complex and intense.”

While most people with anorexia and bulimia are females who want to be thin, males tend to get eating disorders that are generally related to wanting to be muscular. Scott Griffiths, a body image researcher at Australia’s University of Melbourne, talks about muscle dysmorphia, a psychological affliction (which mostly affects young men) to obsessively want a muscular physique. “It’s not dangerous, per se, but it is debilitating,” Griffiths says. “People who have high levels of anxiety, it can ruin their life. And we see a similar thing with muscle dysmorphia.”

Alan Flanagan, a nutrition researcher at the University of Surrey, has this scathing comment about diet culture: “I think it’s celebrating a disordered behavior in relationship with food. And it’s an attempt to legitimize the behavior by giving it another name. Take the ‘cheat meal’ concept and look at it for what it is. I think it’s fairly obvious that it’s a disordered behavior to engage with, with food.”

The experts in the film say that a big problem with diet culture is that diet plans are mass-produced as a “one size fits all” remedy for everyone. In reality, not everyone can lose weight in the same way and at the same pace, just by buying a so-called “diet remedy.” The fashion, beauty and media industries get a lot of blame in this documentary for perpetuating “ideal” body images and physiques that are unattainable for most people.

In addition, diets are notorious for failing over a long-term basis. People can temporarily lose weight through a diet plan, but it’s harder to stick with that plan for longer periods of time. Jenna Daku, a disordered eating therapist, compares misguided weight-loss plans that consist of extreme dieting and eating binges to being like trying to push a beach ball into the water.

Registered dietitian Pixie Turner and linguist/body image researcher Maxine Ali each comment that diet culture puts pressure on people to be thin because being thin is equated with an image of being more likely to be a “good person.” Turner comments, “Just because dieting is popular doesn’t mean it’s risk-free either.” Nadia Craddock, a body image researcher at the University of the West of England, adds: “The diet industry wouldn’t be as profitable if we didn’t subscribe that being fat is bad.”

There are also socioeconomic and gender issues in diet culture. Women are the majority of target customers for diet culture because in most societies, women are under more pressure than men not to be overweight. People judge women’s weight more harshly than they judge men’s weight, and these judgments have an effect on how people perceive attractiveness and power. If you don’t believe it, think about how many overweight men become leaders of countries, compared to overweight women. Think about how female celebrities are much more likely than male celebrities to get media coverage for how their bodies look.

National Health Service surgical doctor Joshua Wolrich comments, “There is an element of diet culture coming from a patriarchal society where women are told what they should look like. And a lot of the time, it has been from men. And so, I think it’s very appropriate that feminism touches on diet culture and definitely has a role to play in combating it.”

Author/speaker Kelsey Miller says that anti-fat biases extend to many areas of society, including education and the justice system. “It’s much more than ‘I don’t like the way the person looks.’ It really affects all areas of life.” It’s mentioned in the documentary that low-income areas are more likely to have cheap fast-food places that have low-quality food with high fat content, which is why obesity can affect low-income people disproportionately higher than people with higher incomes who can afford healthier diets. Low-income areas are also less likely than higher-income areas to have access to fresh and organic food.

“The Body Fights Back” has interviews with two very different immigrants living in London who are examples of how contrasting perspectives can be, when it comes to “privilege” and how people are treated, based on their physical looks. Tenisha Pascal, who is originally from a Caribbean country that she does not name, says she experienced culture shock when she moved to England at age 17, because of how differently people perceive big women.

“Where I’m [originally] from,” Pascal says, “the thicker you are, the more celebrated you are. Men don’t have a problem with your size. It was very different to transition from the love I had felt for myself as a 17-year-old coming to the U.K. Women, instead of complimenting themselves, would always talk negatively about their bodies … They don’t want to show their curves.” The documentary shows Pascal and Morondiya attending the annual Notting Hill Carnival (a street event for Caribbean culture), which they both say is one of the few public events in London where large-sized women can feel welcome to show off their bodies.

Johannes Schrey, who’s originally from Germany, admits that he has “thin privilege” and that he knows because he is tall man who is not overweight, people automatically see him as an authoritative figure. Schrey comments that his culture shock in moving to London was to see that fast-food places are much more prevalent than in Germany. He also admits that he’s very judgmental when he sees an overweight person eating junk food.

And even though white men hold the vast majority of power and wealth from diet culture and other industries that benefit from diet culture, Schrey doesn’t believe it’s fair to say that white men have a lot of control over weight-related images that affect people’s self-esteem. Schrey comments, “Everybody loves targeting us [white men as villains], but there’s no actual proof of that, no board of white men saying, ‘We need to have these things’ … I’m certainly not part of it.” Dr. Wolrich, who is white, has this counterpoint: “When men say [of sexist patriarchy], ‘It’s not me’ or ‘It’s not all men,” I don’t think that’s helpful.”

Someone like Schrey would like to dismiss the reality that there are no corporate boards of white men who decide what goes in the marketplace of diet culture. But the fact is that white men really are the majority of the corporate boards of companies that make decisions on what are Western standards of “attractiveness,” when it comes to people’s weight. That doesn’t mean that all men on these corporate boards are sexist. However, it’s an issue when the majority of diet culture is aimed at women, and yet women are not the majority who control the companies, media images and decisions on how weight can affect people’s lives.

Think about how women are pressured to lose pregnancy weight as soon as possible after giving birth, and you have an idea of how diet culture tends to negatively affect women a lot more than it negatively affects men. Morondiya admits that at this point in her life, she doesn’t want to have any children, mainly because she’s terrified of any pregnancy weight she might not be able to lose after giving birth. It’s also mentioned in the documentary that social media platforms have made it worse in giving people “physique envy” that puts more pressure on people to fall into diet culture’s traps.

Some grassroots groups are starting to push back against the patriarchal ways that try to dictate how people should feel about their body weight. The documentary includes footage of Health at Every Size, a social justice movement that is aimed at deconstructing the myth that being thin always equals health and happiness. There’s also the Anti-Diet Riot Club, whose founder Rebecca Young Brown is also shown briefly in the film. And the documentary features a 2019 “flash mob” event called The Real Catwalk (founded by Khrystyanna Kazakova) that took place in London’s Trafalgar Square, where dozens of people (many of them scantily clad) gathered to celebrate body positivity and acceptance.

“The Body Fights Back” acknowledges that in the 21st century, some progress has been made in the fashion industry giving more representation to plus-sized people in ads, on runways and in clothing options. However, some fashion brands are still resistant to change and deliberately exclude larger sizes. Several people in the documentary comment that people have the power to vote with their wallets, by being informed about which companies brands have inclusivity values that align with theirs and by supporting those companies accordingly.

“The Body Fights Back” clearly advocates this belief: People who’ve lived with insecurities over their weight don’t need to be body-shamed but should be shown compassion when it comes to weight that can improve their physical and mental health. It’s a much more difficult journey for some than it is for others. And many times, people who lecture others about their weight might not know the entire health history of the people who are on the receiving end of the lecture.

These lectures could be well-meaning, but they could also be doing psychological damage that will cause people to feel even worse about themselves, which could lead to more unhealthy eating. In other words, unless you are that person’s medical doctor, telling someone how they should lose weight can not only be inappropriate but could also do more harm to that person. Weight loss that goes beyond losing a few pounds or a few kilograms should be something that’s a personal decision and should be discussed with an individual’s medical doctor.

“The Body Strikes Back” does a very good job at showing the human side of these personal and often and painfully sensitive issues. Rather than waste time trying to single out any particular diet culture companies that are the most damaging (which might have led the documentary to include information that could easily become outdated), director Võsumets wisely focused on individuals who are pro-actively making improvements in their lives and the lives of others, when it comes to self-esteem and body inclusivity. When people are discriminated against because of their weight, it’s not just an aesthetic issue or health issue. It’s a civil rights issue.

Gravitas Ventures released “The Body Fights Back” on digital and VOD on July 13, 2021.

Nordstrom provides grant to the Trans Lifeline x FOLX Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Care Fund

May 17, 2021

The following is a press release from Nordstrom:

As part of Pride month, Nordstrom announced today it will be providing a grant to the Trans Lifeline x FOLX Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Care Fund, to support transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming individuals. For anyone struggling to access hormone care, this fund will underwrite their choice of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) care through FOLX, with 75% of funds reserved for Black and Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC)

Additionally, Trans Lifeline is the giveback partner for our BP. Be Proud brand with 10% of net sales being donated towards the peer support and crisis hotline, and microgrants providing financial resources directly to transgender people across the U.S. and Canada. Between these efforts, Nordstrom hopes to give $350,000 in support of the Transgender community.

“We’ve long believed that we’re all made better by the diversity that exists both within our communities and our workforce. Our values are centered on the notion of creating a place where every customer and employee is welcome, respected, appreciated and able to be their authentic selves,” said Farrell Redwine, senior vice president of human resources, Nordstrom, Inc. “This year, we are honored to partner with Trans Lifeline to extend those values and support the transgender community in accessing resources that make their lives easier.” 

“Trans Lifeline is thrilled to be partnering with Nordstrom to invest in the transformational power of peer support and redistribute resources to trans people,” said Bri Barnett, director of advancement, Trans Lifeline. “This historic gift will be instrumental in helping us answer over 25,000 calls this year and it will also provide 100 people with a year of life saving medical care.”

Nordstrom will also be highlighting brands founded or designed by the LGBTQ+ community. It is Nordstrom’s priority to support the community year-round by offering a dynamic assortment of products and experiences, including:

The BP. Be Proud collection features a range of silhouettes for people of all gender expressions. The lead designer for this collection is queer and we engaged different members from the LGBTQ+ community to provide insight on what they see as missing from the current apparel landscape. Sizes range from XXS – 4X and prices range from $25 – $59.

MANTL, co-founded by Karamo Brown – the best-selling author, producer and Emmy-nominated host on Netflix’s Emmy-winning series Queer Eye – will be available at Nordstrom. Karamo created the skincare line for both the face and scalp after going through his own balding journey, with the mission to empower the bald and balding to live their fullest lives comfortably and confidently.

Packaged in pink and conceived beyond the gender binary, Boy Smells makes loving your identity a daily ritual. Co-founders and real-life partners Matthew Herman and David Kien created Boy Smells as items they’d want to use on a daily basis and products that were fluid and essential.

Leeway Home launched in March 2021 and is launching on in May. Leeway Home celebrates everyone at every stage of life and offers products to fit them. Founded by partners Sam Dumas and Lyle Maltz, they’ve leaned into the way real people live and offer everything you need to set your table your way. 

Leeway Home (Photo courtesy of Nordstrom)

Nordstrom is kicking off an ongoing partnership with The Phluid Project with an exclusive Pride capsule featuring gender-free accessories including hats, bags and socks starting at $12, launching at the end of May. The Phluid Project launched in March 2018 in NYC and online as a gender free fashion brand and is known for breaking the binary. The Phluid Project joined a movement of humans committed to challenging the ethos of traditions of the past that inhibit freedom and self-expression.

Year-round, Nordstrom provides grants and funding to LGBTQIA+ organizations like the Hetrick-Martin InstitutePride Foundation God’s Love We DeliverHuman Rights Campaign and more.

Nordstrom’s celebration of Pride Month and support of the LGBTQIA+ community are a part of the company’s broader efforts and commitments to diversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB). The company recently set goals to guide its DIB efforts and reports annually on its progress. To learn more about the company’s DIB strategy, goals and programs visit


Nordstrom, Inc. is a leading fashion retailer based in the U.S. Founded in 1901 as a shoe store in Seattle, today Nordstrom operates 357 stores in the U.S. and Canada, including 100 Nordstrom stores; 248 Nordstrom Rack stores; two clearances stores; and seven Nordstrom Local service hubs. Additionally, customers are served online through and Nordstrom, Inc.’s common stock is publicly traded on the NYSE under the symbol JWN.


Trans Lifeline connects trans people to the community, resources, and support they need to survive and thrive–building a resilient trans community through trans-led direct services. Trans Lifeline’s Hotline provides peer support and crisis support, and their Microgrants program provides low-barrier grants to trans people in need of legal name changes and updated IDs, HRT, and funds for incarcerated trans people.


Launched in December 2020, FOLX Health is an LGBTQIA+ healthcare service provider built to serve the community’s specific needs. The company delivers a new standard of healthcare that’s built to serve LGBTQIA+ people, rather than treat them as problems to be solved. For more information, visit

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