The Pill

Institute History

  • 2003 Sundance Film Festival


Some say the invention of "the pill" ranks in importance with the discovery of fire. To be sure, this concoction of female sex hormones can be credited with igniting a social revolution. Chana Gazit and David Steward's consummate documentary shows how this drug did more for women's equality than any other single factor during the twentieth century.

Only a half century ago, laws in 30 states prohibited the sale and advertisement of contraception. Asking a man to wear a condom was unheard of, so nice girls got their "Mrs." degrees and prepared for lives of child rearing. Then along came outspoken birth-control activist Margaret Sanger, who envisioned a way to free American women from unwanted pregnancies.

Interviews and fascinating archival footage interweave Sanger's brave crusade with women's accounts from the reproductive trenches, as The Pill expertly tracks this initially controversial medicine through its precarious scientific and social development. Masterminded by an unlikely alliance convened by Sanger—including a forward-thinking patroness, an eccentric researcher, and a staunch Catholic doctor—the pill's first human trial was, by necessity, covert. Less than two decades later, by 1970, 15 million American women were reaping its benefits—sex without worry, family planning, and the possibility of becoming self-sustainable economic units. Meanwhile, evidence of hazardous side effects galvanized protests by a generation, who, for the first time in history, took control over their bodies and their lives.

— Caroline Libresco

Screening Details


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