Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'It gave us more drive': 'Labor + Justice' is a short film with a message

“I actually wrote Labor + Justice in January of 2019,” Says Sarah Joy Byington, “[with] obviously, no idea that Roe would be overturned in 2022. I wrote it as an exercise for a writing website that gave a prompt monthly and you submitted your work. And I was angry at Trump for something – I've lost count of what it was. So, in the moment I was feeling very lost with the way that women's autonomy and reproductive rights were going. And so I took that and kind of my view of politicians and put it into this kind of genre splitting piece.”

The work that resulted from that 2019 writing prompt is the short film Labor + Justice, which Byington has spent the past year or so touring around various film festivals, and which is now streaming at laborandjusticefilm.com. As she says, it’s a genre-splitting piece, and begins with a comedic tone before delivering a more serious message.

Labor + Justice is set in a dystopian future where pregnant persons are required by law to give birth in front of a panel of judges,” Byington explains. “And if the birth does not go well, if the baby is not born healthy, the mother is immediately sentenced to execution. So these judges watch these births by the dozens daily in such a mundane, careless manner. I'll admit [that] I love a good shock factor. But I always weave comedy into my work. There's no comedy without drama, there's no drama without comedy. And so when you watch this, you will find out that it starts out as a very comedic piece. You have no idea what's going on. And so when there is that shift, it's kind of like, oh, like stuff hits the fan.

Byington says that tonal switch isn’t just for shock value – it’s also part of the message she’s trying to communicate. ”I think that creating that contrast was so important,” she says. “I wanted to create this juxtaposition of how I felt [that] we the people live our lives in a way that we're just surviving, whereas we have people in these congressional hearings just making these choices for us in a very mundane, just everyday kind of way. And so at the beginning, they're just, you know, eating their chicken wings, drinking beer. It's like a circus, really. It's like watching a bunch of guys watching Sunday afternoon football. And so when that first mother comes in and the room kind of shifts, they continue to eat their chicken wings and it's just like, have some respect. This is a woman's life.”

This is a short film that Byington probably wouldn’t have created ten years ago. “I grew up in a conservative home,” she says, “and I, you know, considered myself quote-unquote ‘pro life.’ First of all, I think ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ have those quotes around them because it's such a grey area. The reason why we shot the film in black and white is because I wanted to emphasize that it's not a black and white matter. I think that it's so up to the individual. And so I think it's important to remember that it's not a black and white issue and I think that's why the government's hands should not be on these decisions, should not have their say in these traumatic life altering decisions that are not easy to make.”

Byington didn’t start making Labor + Justice until 2021, two years after writing the screenplay based on that writing prompt. “And so we set out to make [the short] not knowing that just eight months later, you know, Roe V Wade would be overturned,” she says. “So it was never our intention to piggyback off of that movement. If anything, it gave us more drive because it's so important to fight for, you know, reproductive rights.”

The filmmaker says she’s very happy with and proud of the film, but there is one thing she’d change if she made it again. “The only thing I will say is that I thought we would have more barbecue sauce and more blood,” she says with a laugh. “And when I wrote it, I was like barbecue sauce was everywhere but we – being a short film, low budget – we didn't have multiple costumes to drench in barbecue wing sauce. And then out of, you know, respect for the venue [the movie was shot at St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin], we weren't going to be pouring buckets of blood on the floor.”

'Labor + Justice' is streamable at laborandjuslaborandjusticefilm.comticefilm.com

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for KUT.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
Related Content