Sundance 2022 Review: “Aftershock”

Year: 2022

Runtime: 86 minutes

Directors: Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee

By Morgan Roberts

The United States has an alarming maternal mortality rate. But the maternal mortality rate is highest among Black women. “Aftershock” explores the systemic racism seeped in maternal care and those fighting for justice in memory of those lost to this negligence.

Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac were expecting mothers, ready to welcome their children into the world. But both would lose their lives shortly after childbirth. Now, their families are turning their tragedy into advocacy; highlighting just how preventable their deaths were and fighting to the change the system that took their lives.

The film follows Shamony’s mother, Shawnee Benton Gibson along with her partner, Omari Maynard, and Amber Rose’s partner Bruce McIntyre III as they fight for change while attempting to adjust to their absences, their partners in parenthood taken from them. Maynard and McIntyre aim to make structural changes while holding the institutions who were negligent in care accountable for Shamony’s and Amber Rose’s deaths.

“Aftershock,” in conjunction with McIntyre’s and Maynard’s journeys, examines the pervasiveness of medical bias when it comes to the care of expectant Black women. In 2019, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” gave a brief overview of medical bias. “Aftershock” picks up where the 20-minute piece left off and dives deeper into how this bias permeates every part of maternal care for Black women. “Aftershock” provides nuance normally missed in the conversation; that the mistreatment of Black women when it comes to their medical care is not new, continues to impact them, and continues to alter families.

What “Aftershock” gives to audiences are the stories of the families surviving loss, preventable loss. Maynard and McIntyre are our central focus. They both advocate for accountability and systematic change, keeping the memories of their loved ones alive, and having to raise their children as single parents. Benton Gibson talks about loss in stages; the initial loss is the earthquake, but everything that follows is the aftershock.

“Aftershock” is a heartbreaking and beautiful film that shines a light on Black women’s healthcare and the high maternal mortality rate. This is an important film that highlights the pervasiveness of medical bias and how it will literally cost Black women their lives.

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