By Rachel Chou
Bei Bei is a timely documentary archiving the story of Bei Bei Shuai, who in 2011 was prosecuted for a suicide attempt that killed her fetus. Indiana law decrees that knowingly or intentionally killing a fetus in any developmental stage is murder.
The film screened on July 29 for the 42nd Asian American International Film Festival, presented by Asian CineVision.
In 2010, when Shuai’s boyfriend abandoned her in her pregnancy, she became so depressed she decided to end her life by ingesting rat poison. When the child died in the hospital in Shuai’s arms, she was whisked away to the mental health wing and was arrested and held in jail for 435 days for murdering her fetus and attempted feticide. A murder conviction would have resulted in a sentence of 45 years to life.
In words, Shuai appears heartless, but the documentary paints a visual of a mother deeply in love with her child, dealing with the loss of her child and her own mental illness, then abruptly made into a criminal by state law. As one case study of the criminalization of pregnancy in America, the fact that Shuai is a woman of color and an immigrant exacerbates the importance of this documentary in today’s political and social landscape. The documentary highlights the immigration issues that are often overlooked, specifically the obstacles that immigrants face in the criminal justice system and how the fear of deportation denies access to basic human rights and justice.
Shuai came to America with dreams and no family but became very close to her defense lawyer Linda Pence, who is a main player in the documentary. They are still close today, as the directors Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt revealed to the audience in the Q & A session.
Lipschutz and Rosenblatt have been making documentaries on reproductive rights for a very long time; Bei Bei is their eighth film.
Lipschutz says they have been tracking Shuai’s story for a while. They got in touch with Lynn Paltrow, who is a lawyer for cases like Shuai’s. She recalled the unlikely way they got access to Shuai.
“Got in touch with (Paltrow) and I said I just wanted to get a cup of coffee,” Lipschutz said. “I wasn’t going to ask her for access to Bei Bei. She emails me back, I’m glad you didn’t ask because you know I can’t give it. We go to her office – it never happens like this for documentary filmmakers. We’re there, Lynn gets a call, she goes into the other room and I hear a string of curses. She comes back through the door, she looks at us, she says, ‘Bei Bei Shuai is going on trial. Wanna cover it?'”
Jennifer Wang, Deputy Director of Programs for the National APA Women’s Forum, highlights the importance of telling these stories.
“Telling these stories has only become more integral. Just in this last legislative season we saw the types of bills that tell doctors and law enforcement to racially profile people,” she said. “These are laws that essentially tell people to question the intent of people who look like me. They tell medical providers that you should look at Asian Pacific Islander American women with heightened suspicion because there are these stereotypes about who we are because of where we come from, that persist in America … Things have not slowed down, they have in fact sped up in the political environment that we’re in.”
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story.