No Woman No Cry Documentary Review Essay

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Christy Turlington Burns' documentary sheds light on the issue of maternal mortality.

Supermodel Christy Turlington Burns makes her directorial debut with No Woman, No Cry, an impassioned documentary about the devastating health consequences of pregnancy and childbirth for far too many women around the globe. Personally inspired—Burns suffered a near fatal hemorrhage while giving birth to her first child—the film serves as a valuable educational tool even as it betrays its tyro filmmaker’s lack of directorial finesse.

Beginning with the declaration that 90% of the deaths suffered by women as a result of pregnancy are preventable, the film is separated into various sections devoted to individual cases in four different countries. The first, set in Tanzania, concerns a woman pregnant with her third child who suffers complications while being treated in a ramshackle clinic. The nearest hospital is many miles away, leading the filmmaker to provide the $30 necessary to hire a van to transport the woman over dirt roads so bumpy that one expects her to go into labor before she gets there.

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In Bangladesh, where culture dictates that the majority of women give birth at home, a woman refusing to go to a hospital is forced to change her attitude when she begins bleeding profusely. And a widower provides an emotionally harrowing account of how his wife bled to death before she could get the proper medical attention.

The strict anti-abortion laws in Guatemala result in thousands of women dying annually as a result of unsafe abortions, while in central Florida a midwife at a clinic for uninsured women decries the lack of health care opportunities for low-income patients.

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Narrating the film, Burns compares her subjects’ unfortunate situations with her comparatively cushy one, depicted in grainy home-movie footage shot by her filmmaker husband Ed, seen briefly reflected in mirrors.

The film is rough-hewn and uneven in its storytelling and presentational aspects. But it sheds light on an international health care crisis requiring more attention than it’s received, and for that alone it deserves credit.

Venue: Savannah Film Festival
Production: Turly Pictures.
Director: Christy Turlington Burns.
Producers: Christy Turlington Burns, Dallas Brennan Rexer.
Director of photography: Kirsten Johnson.
Editor: Sari Gilman.
Composer: Paul Brill.
Not rated, 60 min.

NO WOMAN NO CRY

My Life With Bob Marley.

By Rita Marley with Hettie Jones.

Illustrated. 209 pp. New York:

Hyperion. $22.95.

One morning in 1972, a rickety truck arrived at 56 Hope Road, the well-worn Jamaica mansion where Bob Marley held court. A purposeful-looking woman got out and exchanged some intemperate words with Marley's girlfriend, who had spied the truck from the porch. The commotion was enough to rouse the singer, who came out to talk to the woman.

She told him off and called his girlfriend a whore. She also mentioned that she was moving out of her aunt's shack in Trench Town and needed money. Whatever she said, it worked: Marley forked over some cash, and the woman got back in the truck and sped off toward her new home. This was an odd exchange, not least because the woman in question was Rita Marley, Bob Marley's wife. They had been married since 1966, but their marriage was full of breaks and partings, and the house on Hope Road marked yet another break: it was his place, not hers.

After the altercation at Hope Road, Rita Marley never talked to her husband again -- never, that is, until later in the day, when he came to visit his wife and children at their barren new house in Bull Bay. In her memoir, ''No Woman No Cry,'' Rita Marley explains that she made it through this ordeal by refusing to dwell on it. By bedtime, she writes, ''everything I'd gone through . . . seemed to have happened not to me but to another person.'' This, it appears, is how Rita Marley survived her years with Bob Marley: by sitting down every night to unlive the day. For better and for worse, this is also how she wrote her moving, sometimes frustrating book. (Her co-author is Hettie Jones, who chronicled her marriage to LeRoi Jones in the memoir ''How I Became Hettie Jones.'') She gives us bits and pieces of her life and his without ever quite surrendering to the pleasures and dangers of memory.

Even in her own unsentimental recounting, Rita Anderson's childhood seems like a colorful caricature of Jamaican poverty. There was the tough-talking grandmother, Yaya, who smoked cigars ''backward, with the fire end in her mouth.'' There was the father who emigrated to London and didn't invite Rita, and there was the mother who remarried -- and likewise didn't invite Rita. Then there was the girl herself, who found an ingenious way to get the ribbons and flowers she loved: she'd head to the local cemetery and find a fresh grave. ''After the mourners left,'' she writes, ''I climbed in.''

When she met her future husband, she was a single mother and aspiring singer, and he was a member of an emerging ska group called the Wailers. (Reggae, a slower and heavier descendant of ska, was born a few years later, in 1968.) Her group, the Soulettes, was hired to sing back-up for the Wailers and, after a brief courtship, the two became inseparable, much to the consternation of Rita's aunt. ''From that day on,'' she writes, ''when you'd see Bob, I'd be his tail. He'd have me by the hand, walking me, come on, Rita.'' He proved his devotion by protecting her from the advances of his ''very touchy'' bandmate, Peter Tosh.

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