How Oscar Short ‘Red, White and Blue’ Was Spurred by Roe v. Wade

Anyone who watches the Oscar-nominated live action short “Red, White and Blue” can probably figure out exactly when and why the film was written. The story of a single mother (Brittany Snow) with two children who must travel out of state for an abortion, the wrenching 23-minute film from first-time director Nazrin Choudhury feels like the direct product of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the right to abortion established almost 50 years earlier in Roe v. Wade.

And sure enough, that’s exactly when Choudhury got the idea. “It was written in July, the very next month after the decision had been made and there were so many news articles about the real-world consequences and repercussions for so many people,” she said. “I have an experience myself of needing a procedure for a non-viable pregnancy — which if I hadn’t had, I would not be here to tell this tale or be the mother to my two teenage daughters. And so I really understood the fact that as a storyteller, I had a platform to tell a story with which I could represent one family living in Arkansas and how the real-world repercussions of this decision affects them.

“I had the idea overnight as a fully fleshed, cinematic story. I woke up and the idea was there. I wrote it almost immediately, in the space of about two or three hours. And it’s pretty much the film that you now see on screen.”

Choudhury had planned to get into directing when she went to school in her native Great Britain, but she got sidetracked with offers to write for British TV. She continued as a writer when she moved to the United States and worked on shows like “Fear the Walking Dead” but decided to become a director once she had the lean, 10-page script for “Red, White and Blue,” along with clear ideas of how it should look. “I really wanted it to feel very grounded, where you feel like you are in this world with these characters,” she said.

Nazrin Choudhury on the set of “Red, White and Blue” (Majik Ink Productions)

The key was to figure out how to capture the nuances of the screenplay on camera. “When you write in prose form, you can use details to elaborate the subtext of everything,”she said. “With a sentence, I might be able to say 10 things. But when you have to translate that to the screen, how do you land it so that the same gut punch is felt on the screen as it is on the page?

“I work extensively in the television space, where you have a creative vision as a producer or a showrunner that you maintain. But this was my first time directing, and that was a different beast.”

The Last Repair Shop

But she couldn’t focus completely on directing because she was also working as a producer: “I was booking car rentals for my cinematographer to come out here and stay with me,” she said, laughing. “My entire house was turned into the costume department, with fittings happening and my kids running around, hosting people and saying, ‘Can we get you water? What would you like to drink?’ It was as independent as they get.”

Her daughters helped her overcome other challenges, too. “It was difficult to raise the resources we needed financially,” she said, “and it was a mammoth undertaking because this was a production that features child actors who we have responsibilities toward, very rightly so. And we had a road trip, and a pivotal scene with a song in the middle of it.” She laughed. “If I had my wish list, I would have gotten a Cyndi Lauper song or a Taylor Swift song, but I’m a short filmmaker – I don’t have that power or reach or finances. It ended up being my two daughters who sang in that road-trip scene.”

Her film has gotten attention for a devastating reveal that takes place late in its running time, but Choudhury hesitates to call the moment a twist. “Even though it becomes expedient to talk about it that way, this really was the story all along,” she said. “It was a metaphor for the fact that we have preconceived notions, we make judgments. It wasn’t done for the shock factor and it wasn’t done for the twist.

“We’re trying to tell you, ‘These are all the reasons why someone could need and want this (abortion), and here’s another added reason. If you haven’t changed your mind before, how does this affect you now? Because if you are a human being, you should understand why it’s so important.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more of the issue here.

Down to the Wire, TheWrap Magazine - February 20, 2024
Illustration by Rui Ricardo for TheWrap

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