(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Lina Lyte Plioplyte
Program: Special Presentations (International Premiere)
Anyone with a uterus will tell you that gynecological healthcare is one big misogynistic mess. It can take years of suffering through extremely disruptive, often painful conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or fibroids before you receive a diagnosis. Even then, treatment options are few and far between. Birth control, which has seen very few medical advancements over the past several decades, is essentially one big experiment until you find something that works for you–and there’s a possibility that you never will! Our patriarchal society has stigmatized periods, giving very little time and money for research. Thankfully, the tides have finally started to turn.
Directed by Lina Lyte Plioplyte, Periodical is a scientific and sociological look at all things periods, from puberty to menopause and everything that happens during the 40 plus years in between. Doctors and educators provide an in-depth explanation of the science behind periods, while young activists share their fight against social injustices like period poverty and the tampon tax. The documentary also offers plenty of historical context and personal anecdotes. There are even a handful of celebrity cameos from Naomi Watts, Anna Konkle, Megan Rapinoe, and Gloria Steinem.
With Periodical, Plioplyte has made a very inclusive documentary that features both trans folks and people of colour. This shouldn’t feel like a breath of fresh air in 2023, but it does. Generally speaking, white cis women are usually centred in conversations about periods and reproductive health. But issues like accessing healthcare, affording period products, and being dismissed by doctors disproportionately affect marginalized groups. An intersectional approach was absolutely imperative and I’m happy to report that Plioplyte understood the assignment.
This is a documentary of the best kind: one that is chock-full of interesting, radical people who are driving change around the United States. Anusha Singh and Madeleine Morales are two college-aged women working together to abolish the tampon tax. In most states, period products aren’t considered medical necessities, unlike Viagra and dandruff shampoo, so they are still subject to sales tax. I loved Omisade Burney-Scott, who started The Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause, a project that brings together Black women (and women-identified) to share their menopause experiences.
Despite happening to half of the population, periods are often considered gross and embarrassing; something to hide and keep secret. That’s why we need a film like Periodical. Thoughtful and well-made, it breaks new ground, dispels myths, and normalizes a taboo topic in just 95 minutes. It manages to cover an impressive amount of information in a very digestible, compelling way. For a film that does so much educating, it’s also fast-paced and fun with a high production value that will help to attract folks who might not be drawn to documentaries otherwise.
I firmly believe Periodical should be required viewing for cis men (one can dream). It should also become a part of sex education curriculum in every school. That’s how valuable and necessary this film is. It invites conversation and encourages action, presenting the possibility of a world where shame around menstruation doesn’t exist, which is such an empowering idea for everyone with a period. A revolutionary documentary that I wish I had growing up, Periodical is a gift to future generations.
Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.