Nick Sweeney’s FX documentary on Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe in the Roe v. Wade landmark U.S. Supreme Court abortion case, doesn't let its subject find her own voice, says Kristen Lopez. In fact, the documentary hardly offers any insight into McCorvey's life. "And Sweeney’s camera is always focused on showing us who Norma is versus how she is perceived by others," says Lopez." It’s hard to fathom an old woman who spends her days coloring — her walls caked in colored pictures of gardens and birds — to be the face and voice of a movement that inspires such anger and hostility. And yet, Sweeney and crew never actively push McCorvey to answer anything tough. For a documentary touting itself as having McCorvey’s last interview — she died in 2017 — there’s no active instigation from the interviewer, although we hear him push other interview subjects." Lopez adds: AKA Jane Roe starts with a fascinating story but fails to go deep into the mind of a woman who was constantly changing. One of the most significant figures in the 20th Century is divisive, but it would have been great to narrow the focus to her feelings about that divisiveness and not the people who profited."
AKA Jane Roe suffers for being too focused on Norma McCorvey's "deathbed confession": "If AKA Jane Roe is a fascinatingly humanizing tale of the life behind the lawsuit, it also suffers greatly from Sweeney's narrow focus on his subject's theatrical bent and 'deathbed confession,'" says Inkoo Kang. "McCorvey's decision to join Roe v. Wade is strangely glossed over, as is her 180-degree turn from pro-abortion activist to anti-choice spokeswoman. (Even if her sole motivation was money, which it very well may not have been, I would've loved to know what went into the calculus for that extreme pivot.) It also would've been illuminating to have some cultural context of the tactics within the religious right that McCorvey was best suited to carry out, such as the spectacles of public contrition that we see McCorvey perform in archival footage. Most disappointingly, Sweeney never gets his subject to account for her contributions in curtailing the reproductive rights for so many disadvantaged women like herself. And yet, as limited in scope as AKA Jane Roe is, it does illustrate an urgent point that its filmmaker likely didn't intend to make: McCorvey's life demonstrates one pitfall after another of using emotional arguments for a policy debate that affects tens of millions of women in every walk of life."
Why did director Nick Sweeney feel McCorvey wanted to give him her "deathbed confession"?: "I didn’t know it was going to be the final year of her life, obviously, but I think she had an inkling," he says. "She knew that her health was in decline and this was her chance to define the terms of her legacy and to set the record straight and to do it on her own terms. If she didn’t, somebody else was going to tell her story. I think she felt very much like she had been used throughout her life. She felt she was certainly overlooked for her involvement in the case, she said that she wasn’t a picture-perfect, white-gloved lady. She felt like she wasn’t the right poster girl that the pro-choice movement wanted, and then later in her life she certainly felt used by the anti-abortion movement. When I asked her, ‘Did they use you as a trophy?’ Her response was, ‘It was a mutual thing. I took their money, they put me out front and told me what to say and that’s what I’d say.’ She felt disgruntled, she wanted to just be herself, she wanted to go off-script and kind of defy the expectations that people had for her. She subverted people’s expectations at so many different points in her life, and in this film is probably the last."
What does Sweeney hope will be the documentary's outcome?: "That it will help people understand this enigmatic, mysterious woman, who lived a very perplexing life," he says. "Being at the center of these huge issues are real people. Norma was the plaintiff who fit the bill, and she was forever tethered to this huge issue. Behind the symbolic case and divisive debate (was) an actual person. The other thing is that people — younger people, in particular — maybe take for granted the history of all of this. Not just in terms of the case and the abortion debate, but also just what it was like to be a queer person. It was very brave of [her] to live openly and proudly when things were much more conservative and in a place where things were not easy."