Editor’s note: This commentary contains spoilers about the upcoming movie ‘Tully.’
When I first wrote about ‘Tully,’ back in March, I got emails and feedback from commenters. They told me to wait until the movie came out before announcing my unease.
I was told that my opinion wasn’t valid until I had seen the movie. I was told that I was being unfair.
It opens to wide release later this week. And I reiterate: I have not seen it. And I don’t think you should either.
The filmmakers should apologize
In fact, now that I have more information about this film, I believe that screenwriter Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and lead actress Charlize Theron owe an apology to every survivor of maternal mental illness (especially those who have seen this movie) and to the broader mental health community.
This (April 30) is the start of Maternal Mental Health Awareness week.
We are supposed to be pledging our support and educating mothers, families, and doctors about the various mental illnesses that affect nearly one million moms every year.
What does this have to do with ‘Tully?’ Bear with me. I am getting there.
“From hallucinating a personified version of her younger self (including “helping” her have sex with her own husband), to nights filled with frantic cleaning and cupcake baking, to a spontaneous night out where she ends up driving home drunk, Marlo exhibits many of the signs of (post-partum pyschosis.).”
What the movie gets wrong
But the movie doesn’t address this very serious illness, which occurs in 1 or 2 deliveries out of every 1,000.
In fact, it glosses over Marlo’s erratic behaviors by noting (briefly) that she has previously had post-partum depression. That is an entirely different mental health issue, affecting 1 in 7 women.
As the Motherly article notes, it’s unclear whether this omission is intentional or if “the film-makers did not realize that the character they created had PPP,” which is both very rare and dangerous – there is a 5 percent suicide rate and a 4 percent infanticide rate associated with the illness.
Regardless, its a glaring and irresponsible lapse that not only does nothing to foster dialogue and understanding about post-partum mental health issues, but in fact, presents misinformation as cinematic fact.
Why didn’t they talk to mental health advocates?
Every year, usually around Oscar time, we hear stories about actors and actresses who went to great lengths to truly inhabit the characters they play.
We hear about people who lose vast amounts of weight, who learn to sing or play the piano, who learn languages and dance, who study sports or mathematics or whatever their character excelled at.
And so I truly cannot understand why no one involved in this movie appears to have consulted with any of the leading advocates in the maternal mental health community.
Did Charlize meet with any survivors of postpartum psychosis? Or postpartum depression? Or postpartum OCD? Or PTSD? Are mothers not important enough to research? Is our mental health good enough for a plot twist, but not a conversation?
If they’d asked they would have known the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. If they had asked they would have known the difference between a raw look at motherhood and mental illness.
If they had asked they would have been told how deeply offensive it is to use the tagline “See how the other half lives” when your lead character dissociates.
Each year approximately 3,945,875 mothers give birth in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And approximately 3,900 of them will suffer postpartum psychosis.
That’s 10,000 moms while this movie was in production. And these mothers are not hiding. They are running support groups, they are working with advocacy organizations, they are on the front lines trying to save the lives of mothers every single day.
Postpartum psychosis survivors deserve better
I do know postpartum psychosis survivors. They are my clients, they are my fellow advocates, they are my friends.
They deserve SO MUCH MORE than the throwaway treatment they got in this movie. These mothers are warriors who have walked through hell. They are more than a plot twist.
Postpartum psychosis survivors deserve an apology from the creative forces behind this movie. Mothers who are suffering from or who are survivors of maternal mental illness deserve to have their stories told.
The 1 in 4 Americans who have lived through or who live with a mental illness deserve to know when they are walking into a film that is potentially triggering.
If you’d like to support Maternal Mental Health week you can get more information and join in the daily events on multiple social media platforms by visiting The Blue Dot Project.
And if you, or a mom you know, needs support you can reach out to Postpartum Support International.
They have survivor led support in all fifty states and in countries around the world. Everyone should know that maternal mental illnesses affect one in seven new mothers every year – and everyone should know that these illnesses are treatable.
I’m a survivor of postpartum depression and anxiety, I live with PTSD, and I’m a great mom. I survived, in part, because of the mothers who work every day to break the stigma surrounding maternal mental health. These mothers are my heroes. This week and every week, I salute them.