Leona's Sister Gerri

A woman whose nude body was abandoned on a motel room floor after an botched illegal abortion became an icon for a divisive issue.

Premiere Date
November 4, 1995
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    1995 Carolina Film & Video Festival-Bronze Medal
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    1995 USA Film Festival-Finalist
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    1995 New England Film and Video Festival-Best Social Issue Documentary
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    1995 EMMA, National Women's Political Caucus and Radcliffe College-Best Televison Documentary
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    1995 National Educational Media Network-Bronze Apple
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    1995 Chicago International Film Festival-Silver Hugo
  • Producer

    Jane Gillooly

    Jane Gillooly is a non-fiction and narrative film and video maker. Projects include Today The Hawk Takes One Chick (2007-08) an observational film shot in a rural Swaziland; Rockefeller-nominated experimental feature film script, The Not Dead Yet Club (2006); Dragonflies, The Baby Cries (2000) which premiered at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and Show more aired on PBS and the Sundance Channel. She was also co-producer of Theme: Murder (1998), selected to screen at Full Frame Documentary Festival and INPUT. Her film Leona’s Sister Gerri (1995) was included on the Best of P.O.V. collection released 2007. A MacDowell fellow, Gillooly is a professor of film at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Show less

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    The Film

    "A thoughtful, dignified and intensely moving documentary.”
    — The Nation

    Millions have seen the photograph, and no one who has seen it will ever forget it: a naked woman, dead from a botched illegal abortion, lying on a motel room floor. The picture appeared in Ms. Magazine in April 1973, and quickly became a symbol for the abortion rights movement. Leona’s Sister Gerri tells the dramatic story of Gerri Santoro, a mother of two and the “real person” in the now famous photo. She was the 28-year-old mother of two young daughters, and she had summoned the courage to leave an abusive husband. When she became pregnant by a lover, her circumstances forced her to accept the lover’s offer of a D.I.Y. abortion. The man left her when the illegal abortion went awry, and her body was found the next morning in the gruesome, bloody crouch the crime-scene photograph captured. When the photo was published by Ms. Magazine in 1973 to illustrate the dangers of criminalizing abortion, Gerri became an icon of pro-choice activists nationwide.