Type keyword(s) to search

Recommended: The Janes on HBO

An inspiring light in the darkness, HBO's timely new doc follows a collective that helped women get safe abortions before Roe v. Wade.
  • A scene from The Janes (Photo: HBO)
    Subscribe to Primetimer's Recommended newsletter and get our guide to the very best series, movies and specials in your inbox every Friday.
    The Janes | HBO
    Documentary film (1 hour 41 minutes) | Unrated

    What's The Janes About?

    This 2022 Sundance Film Festival selection tells the story of Jane, a collective of mostly women in 1960s Chicago who worked clandestinely to provide safe abortion access for women who sought it out in the days before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

    Who's involved?

    • Co-director Tia Lessin is an Academy Award nominee (for the 2008 film Trouble the Water) who found early success as a producer on the Michael Moore TV series The Awful Truth. She went on to produce Moore's acclaimed films Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
    • Co-director Emma Pildes makes her feature directing debut, after serving as producer on HBO docs like Spielberg and Jane Fonda in Five Acts.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    It's impossible to talk about The Janes without referencing its unfortunate timeliness. With the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States, The Janes takes us back to the pre-Roe days when a collective of women in Chicago banded together to help women obtain safe abortions. It's a story about uncommon bravery and solidarity — the kind that may well be needed in the times ahead.

    The collective called itself Jane (as in "call this number and ask for Jane"), and directors Lessin and Pildes let the women who were there, now in their 70s and 80s, tell the story. They recall how in Chicago in the 1960s, if women needed to obtain abortions, they had to go to the mob, who extorted shameful sums and subjected them to often shoddy and unsafe medical care in dark motel rooms. The women of Jane, many of them already radicalized through the Civil Rights Movement, stepped in when they saw the injustice and the need. As one of them says, "We could be of use."

    The film relays this history with the same communal spirit that made Jane work in the first place. No single founder of the organization is named, and no media darling emerges. Formally, this wouldn't be called a very "ambitious" documentary, with its reliance on talking-head interviews and basic recollections, but the cumulative impact of this approach is both powerful and inspirational. A great many of us are looking to help vulnerable women through what promises to be a dark time, and The Janes is a light in the darkness, an example of courage and solidarity for us all.

    Pairs well with

    • Nuclear Family, another recent HBO documentary about women navigating the thorny landscape of a country that doesn't want them to live as they choose.
    • Call the Midwife (streaming on Netflix and PBS), takes on both the horrors and the titanic feats of compassion that were necessary to provide abortions for women at a time when that was dangerous.
    • Mrs. America (streaming on Hulu), a gripping miniseries that dives into the women's movement of the 1970s, the solidarity that brought it together, and the insidious divisions that cut it off at the knees.

  • The Janes
    Premieres on HBO June 8 at 9:00 PM ET.
    Created by: Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin.
    People are talking about The Janes in our forums. Join the conversation.

    TOPICS: The Janes, HBO, Emma Pildes, Tia Lessin