“AKA Jane Roe”: Will the Real Norma McCorvey Please Stand Up?

“AKA Jane Roe”: Will the Real Norma McCorvey Please Stand Up? May 24, 2020

Halfway into AKA Jane Roe, a pro-choice activist who knew Norma McCorvey (the real name of the Roe v. Wade plaintiff) posits that being friends with her was “complicated.”

Talk about understatement.

This documentary bio of McCorvey opens with her in a nursing home and clearly in the end stages of a terminal illness, declaring she’s about to make her deathbed confession.  The film then rewinds to give her cradle-to-grave life story before returning to that alleged confession.  But ultimately I was left wondering if her final public statement was just one more con in a life full of cons.

After all, McCorvey was a rape victim until she wasn’t.  She was a pro-choice activist until she became radically anti-abortion.  She was gay until she was ex-gay.  Are you detecting a pattern?

Still worse are the intimates abandoned by McCovey along the way:  her long-term partner Connie, and the daughter raised by McCorvey’s mother (a woman she’d described earlier as a “drunk” and a “two-faced bitch”).

Norma McCorvey, as seen in “AKA Jane Roe”

And these aren’t even the major bombshells that detonate near the end of AKA Jane Roe.  At best, McCorvey comes across as a traumatized kid who matured into a narcissistic opportunist.  At worst, her life was one long scam, crying crocodile tears and changing her story for whomever was lavishing the most attention and remuneration on her.

(By the way, the more we learn about Tara Reade, the more she strikes me as most promising candidate for this year’s Norma McCorvey, another crusader for the left turned willing pawn for the right, driven by economic hardship and an unquenchable lust for the spotlight.  But I digress.)

In terms of artistic quality, AKA Jane Roe ranks as mediocre.  The music ranges from anemic Phillip Glass imitation to generic dramatic underscoring.  The reenactments, which mercifully end about 20 minutes in, are distractingly cheesy.

Still, director Nick Sweeney does a decent job offering a chronology of this seminal chapter in late 20th Century American cultural history.  It’s fascinating to hear audio of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade arguments:  before O’Connor and Ginsburg became Associate Justices, our highest court emanated a patronizing boys’ club vibe.  (Of course, it’s probably back there again, with the appointment of Justice “I Love Beer” Kavanaugh.)

For a while, though, it’s confounding as to why Sweeney jumps from McCorvey’s bio to a profile of Operation Rescue, until their chronologies interlock.  We only see Operation Rescue’s founder, Randall Terry, onscreen briefly, but we get an eyeful and earful of two other prominent members, Flip Benham and Rob Schenck.

It’s easy to write off Benham as born-again blowhard and attention-craving huckster.  You know you’re splashing in the intellectual shallows when he compares shedding one’s sexual orientation to swearing off bonbons.

Schenck is a more perplexing study.  I previously lauded him as a thoughtful evangelical for his about-face on the Second Amendment, expertly chronicled in the 2015 documentary, The Armor of LightThis go-round, his admission of complicity in the shady doings of Operation Rescue feels more like a gotcha moment than a spontaneous confession.  Despite my prior admiration for him, after AKA Jane Roe, I’m wondering if he’s just an upper-crust Flip Benham, with better taste in clothing.

After 80 minutes in the company of McCorvey, Benham, and Schenck, I felt thoroughly icky.  I’m grateful for the history lesson, but now I need a bath.

 

(AKA Jane Roe is available to stream on Hulu.)

 

(Image credit for star rating: Yasir72.multan CC BY-SA 3.0 )


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