For decades, women’s reproductive care has been under attack. Yet the issues surrounding a basic understanding of menstrual cycles go back millennia. Western culture has demonized women for bodily functions. There’s no rhyme or reason outside of the patriarchal structures seeking to maintain power. This makes Periodical, the latest feature from Lina Lyte Plioplyte, a powerful tool for disseminating information. Destigmatizing and providing a historical context allows Periodical to serve several masters, both as entertainment and as a genuine teaching tool.

Plioplyte provides several tracks in Periodical to help the audience understand ongoing fights in the United States. On one side, she follows activists seeking to challenge the constitutional grounds for sales taxes assessed on tampons. Interspliced between this journey, OBGYNs and historians provide context. Not only do they take tampon companies to task for a lack of innovation, but they untangle myths around menstruation.

The high-energy approach to Periodical helps drive home a simple fact: women should not be ashamed of their period. The stigmatization has long permeated the culture, including religion, pop culture, and old fables. Pioplyte takes the fight straight to these ideas, unleashing a bevy of historians to explain where these concepts originated from. She pairs that context with scientists, who openly discuss a woman’s cycle and sexual anatomy.

The footage of women of various ages explaining their periods and menopause allows for plenty of laughs. Plioplyte draws from a diverse group of young women, not only in age but in ethnicity and gender identification. Some talking interviews are downright hilarious, including the Guys We F****d podcast (Corinne Fisher & Krystyna Hutchinson). Others are far more focused on the serious ramifications of their sexual care. Actress Naomi Watts openly discusses her fertility and early menopause.

However, bringing energetic editing and consistent pop culture clips serves as a double-edged sword. There have been many popcorn docs utilizing seemingly unrelated clips from popular TV to land jokes. That is not the context in Periodical, which limits its footage to topically relevant footage.

Yet at the same time, it opens the door to distract the audience with something they find fun. If the content away from these clips was not so strong, these segments might have felt less egregious. However, the breadth of interesting interviews is far more compelling.

Most important of all, Periodical serves as a tool to understand a woman’s body. This goes beyond basic anatomy, though plenty of that is covered. A woman’s cycle is broken down extensively, showing the various aspects of how the body’s chemistry is constantly in flux. As these changes occur, it’s clear that knowing where a woman is at in her cycle can become an advantage. This empowering take helps women understand how to treat one’s body during each stage, from diet & exercise to simply providing their bodies with extra serotonin boosts.

Plioplyte digs deep into more common issues facing women, even during their OBGYN visits. Her interviews break down the flaws in birth control medication. They also explain PCOS, fibroids, and endometriosis. Holding discussions with OBs willing to openly discuss flaws in their field helps point out the overarching issues of women’s health care.

Even before Dobbs, women have been gaslit and misinformed about their reproductive health because many OBs and doctors are unwilling to have seemingly difficult discussions with their clients. Yet a film like Periodical makes an essential point: with more knowledge comes more agency. Periodical is a must-watch for every age group, as you will surely take away something from the film. This is the kind of movie that should be shown to high schoolers, as it will greatly help them understand sexual health.

Alan’s Rating: 8/10

What did you think of Periodical? Let us know in the comments below! Catch Periodical at SXSW 2023. MSNBC Films distributes.

One thought on “SXSW 2023: ‘Periodical’ – The Sex-Ed Documentary You Should Have Seen in High School

  1. I just turned 50 and I learned more from this doc than school, famiily or any visit with my gynos throughout my life!

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