‘Judy Blume Forever’ Documentarians on the ‘Infuriating’ Book Banning Taking Over the Political Landscape

"It's getting a lot scarier," co-director Leah Wolchok told IndieWire of the political repercussions of YA novel censorship.
Leah Wolchok, Judy Blume and Davina Pardo at the 40th Annual Miami Film Festival premiere of "Judy Blume Forever"
Leah Wolchok, Judy Blume, and Davina Pardo at the 40th Annual Miami Film Festival premiere of "Judy Blume Forever"
Getty Images

Judy Blume has been fighting against book banning for a half a century — so what does that say about political progress in America?

The “Forever” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” author has combated censorship for decades, as her novels, often centered on adolescent sexuality, puberty, and body autonomy, have frequently come under fire from right-wing legislators. Blume’s activism and life story was captured in 2023 Sundance breakout documentary “Judy Blume Forever,” co-directed by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, which lovingly tracks her career and impact.

And Key West, Florida resident Blume is hardly settling down: she recently tweeted in response to Ron DeSantis’ bill to ban discussions of menstruations in schools. “Sorry, Margaret,” Blume wrote in reference to her 1970 novel, which is getting its own big screen adaptation later this month.

Celebrities like Julia Roberts, Julianna Margulies, Selma Blair, Sterling K. Brown, Chloë Grace Moretz, Connie Britton, Shonda Rhimes, and Andy Cohen supported the “Let America Read” initiative from Creative Artists Agency’s CAA philanthropic arm in partnership with non-partisan group Campaign for Our Shared Future. Blume advocates for non-profit National Coalition Against Censorship, which the author chose to be the spotlight organization as a Variety Power of Women honoree.

In a recent interview with InideWire, “Judy Blume Forever” documentarian Wolchok addressed the differences between Blume’s battle against book banning in the ’70s and ’80s and the fight against modern right-wing politicians.

“In the ’80s, it was small groups of parents getting together to challenge books that they did not want their own kids to read and they didn’t want all kids to read. And now, we have governors, legislators. … There are political movements getting involved in what our kids can and can’t read,” Wolchok told IndieWire. “That’s where it’s getting a lot scarier, because bills are being introduced that get signed into law that limit the way that kids are able to talk about themselves and read about themselves and their bodies and really discuss information that would help them understand their bodies better and be accepted for who they are. That’s what is especially enraging and infuriating and disheartening.”

Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok
Davina Pardo and Leah WolchokGetty Images for Stacy's Pita Ch

Many of Blume’s books have been censored in the U.S. for decades since their respective releases, namely 1973’s “Deenie”  which deals with masturbation, and 1975’s “Forever,” about a high school senior who explores her sexuality.

“We did interview [Judy] after the Roe v. Wade decision was leaked, and we didn’t include all of it in the film but she talked about the one scene in ‘Forever’ where the main character Katherine goes to Planned Parenthood, not for an abortion but to get birth control and to take control of her body,” Wolchok said. “She definitely wanted to talk about how important it is to her that women still have the right to do what they choose with their bodies.”

Wolchok noted that the political landscape of America changed drastically during the editing process of “Judy Blume Forever.”

“I think we probably should have anticipated how much was going to shift in American society as we were editing the film,” she admitted. “While we were in the edit room, Roe v. Wade was overturned. While we were in the edit room, suddenly Judy’s book ‘Forever’ was being banned again in places like Utah and now Florida after the film premiered at Sundance. And then just last week, the Florida legislator introduced a bill to limit discussions about health education, sex education for kids in elementary schools in Florida. But I don’t think we could have anticipated that would have happened.”

Co-director Pardo pointed to author Jason Reynolds, whose novel “All American Boys” is currently banned. Reynolds is featured in “Judy Blume Forever,” where he calls Blume’s novels timely and sadly timeless due to the stalled politics in the U.S.

A still from Judy Blume Forever by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Judy Blume Forever”Amazon

“We are very much back in the place we were,” Pardo said. “In some ways it feels worse than we were, back when Judy started writing her books, in how we think about women’s bodies, in wanting to control women’s bodies and wanting to control children and what they read and how they access information. Judy has such a deep respect for kids. When we think about book banning, so much of it feels like there is a real lack of respect and trust of kids in their ability to take in information in a way that serves them.”

Pardo concluded, “We did not include this in the film, but Jason Reynolds talks about how kids are playing video games with all kinds of violence. It’s OK for them to see people getting murdered. They’re accessing any and all information on their cellphones, and parents are not necessarily monitoring that closely. And yet we’re going after books — books that can make them feel safe, that can make them feel understood, that can provide them with information that they need. It feels really disingenuous.”

“Judy Blume Forever” starts streaming on Prime Video on Friday, April 21.

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