Belly of the Beast

Belly of the Beast

  • BY Erika Cohn | IN Cinema
    Premiered November 23, 2020

About the Film

When an unlikely duo discovers a pattern of illegal sterilizations—nearly forty years after being banned— in women’s prisons, shielded by prison officials and doctors inside the correctional system, they wage a near-impossible battle against the Department of Corrections. Belly of the Beast exposes modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons, through intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people.  MORE

Kelli Dillon, who was involuntarily sterilized at the age of 24 while incarcerated, teams up with Cynthia Chandler, a human rights lawyer, to fight for reproductive justice at the world’s largest women’s prison, the Central California Women’s Facility. As they prepare to take Kelli’s case to court, they uncover a wide range of crimes occurring within the facility—from inadequate access to healthcare to sexual assault to illegal sterilization—the latter largely perpetrated against the facility’s Black and Latinx populations.

While prison doctors and officials contend that these forced sterilizations were in each person’s best interest and an overall social benefit, Chandler and Dillon call into question how these procedures continued for so long after being banned in California since 1979. Their joint efforts in exposing the atrocities carried out behind closed doors ultimately shed new, timely light on the systemic racism and violence impacting people of color in women’s prisons, in a fight for reparations and justice.

The Filmmaker

Erika Cohn is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director and producer who Variety recognized as one of 2017’s top documentary filmmakers and was featured in DOC NYC’s 2019 “40 Under 40.” Most recently, Erika completed The Judge, a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated film about the first woman judge to be appointed to the Middle East’s Shari’a courts, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and will be broadcast on PBS’s 2018 Independent Lens series. Erika co-directed and produced In Football We Trust, an Emmy award-winning documentary about the unique faith and culture that ultimately drives young Pacific Islander men into the NFL, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’s 2016 Independent Lens series. In 2013, Erika founded Idle Wild Films, Inc., which has released three feature documentaries and produced numerous branded content and commercial spots, including Gatorade’s Win from Within series, for which she received a 2016 Webby award nomination. LESS

Film Credits

Directed and Produced by
Erika Cohn

Produced by
Angela Tucker
Christen Marquez
Nicole Docta

Executive Produced by
Geralyn Dreyfous
Blye Faust
Mark Lipson
Patty Quillin
Doree Friedman
Diane Philips
Lois Vossen
Sally Jo Fifer

Co-Executive Producers
Barbara Dobkin
Gretchen Sisson
Kristin Vogelsong

Brittney Shepherd

Consulting Producer
Carrie Lozano

Supervising Producer
Amy Shatsky

Edited by
Tchavdar Georgiev, ACE
Jean Kawahara

Cinematography by
Clare Major
Bianca Travis Cline

Omar Fadel

Music Supervisor
Tracy McKnight

Featuring (in order of appearance)
Kelli Dillon
Cynthia Chandler
Theresa Martinez
Melody Nickles
Pamela Baker
Kanoa Pendang
Teresa Brown
Liz Lozano
Lilah Sperman
Sophia Sperman
Courtney Hooks
Corey Johnson
Dorothy Roberts
Kimberly Jeffrey
Robin Levi
Crystal Nguyen
Former OB Nurse
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson
Mychal Concepcion
Lynn Acosta

Associate Producers
Debbie McLeod
Jan Mazura
Nancy Blachman
Victoria Raiser
Eva Rendle

Aerial Photography
Dane Christensen

Additional Camera
Christen Marquez
Erika Cohn
Eve Cohen
Justin Zweifach
Mario Furloni
Mike Vargas
S. Leo Chiang
Zac Manuel

Additional Sound
Claudia Katayanagi

Additional Editors
Hee-Jae Park
Ericka Concha
Erika Cohn

Consulting Editors
Kate Amend
Ken Schneider
Sabrina Gordon

Assistant Editor
Hee-Jae Park
Julian Doan
Gabriel Stern Quintana

Investigative Producer
Linda Himelstein

Additional Reporting
Andrew Beale
Jonathan Jones
Lauren Capps Rosenfeld

Office Production Assistant
Caroline Nelson

Production Assistants
Collin Nelson
Erica Christman
Kelsey Rivera
Lauren Schwartzman
Mason Philips

Additional Research
Nataniel Johnson-Gottlieb
Yael Chanoff
Lisa Afanasieff
Nicole Edwards-Masuda
Joanna Rabiger

Rachel Summers
Adam Essig
Maxime Coue
Savannah Milligan


1st AD
Matthew Tucker

1st AC
Paul Taylor

Key Grip
Erik Hansen

Roger Stoddard

Best Boy
Jamil Taylor

Bryan Densley

Media Management
Jason Seaton

Producer’s Assistant
Matt Sampson

Production Assistant
Emily Billow

Elizabeth’s Custom Catering
Lichelle Jenkins

Set Design, Props and Wardrobe
Brianna Davis

Adam Beehler
Ali Poulson
Allison Merrill
Angel Colebrook
Barbara Reinke
Ben Brown
Cameron Aragon
Carol Rogozinski
Celeste Andrrson
Chastity de Moors
Conrad Kreutzer
Diana Monago
Dominique LaJeunesse
Doug Willette
Francesca Oberg
Frank Parker
Ginger Flowers
Hanna Sauer
Jade Gottfredson
Jenicia Rios
Jenny Shaffer
Judy Day
Jule Marine
Kathryn Stone
Kimi Poulson
Kristi Woodham
Laura Oldham
Ludy Hamilton
Mark Jacson
Micah Richards
Michael Taylor
Peihui Wu
Sherry Allred
Stephanie Rose
Suzette Cannon
Tiana Rogers
Trent Taylor
Yvonne Ryans

Medical Consultant
Jan Mazura

Post-Production Audio by
Skywalker Sound

Titles and Animation
Mindbomb Films, Inc.

Supervising Sound Editor
Kim Foscato

Re-Recording Mixer
Danielle Dupre

Digital Intermediate Colorist
Luke Cahill

Online Editor
Sean Meyers

Digital Intermediate Producers
Matt Radecki & Greg Lanesey

Creative Directors
Chris Kirk
Syd Garon

Archival Research
Rich Remsberg
Gideon Kennedy
Toni Bell

Dorothy Roberts
Erika George
Paul Lombardo

Adina Mazer

Legal Counsel and E&O Clearance
Donaldson + Callif

Legal Counsel
James Wheaton

Piano, keyboards, percussion, orchestration
Omar Fadel

Music copyist, additional orchestration
Dario Forzato

Music editor
Erika Cohn

Orchestra and Studio Contractor
F.A.M.E.S Project

Archival Materials Provided by
ABCNEWS VideoSource * Bettye Lane * Getty Images * Hoover Institute Library & Archives *Joseph A. Gervasi * Kinolibrary * Pond5 * Reveal from Center for Investigative Reporting, Inc *Transit Film GmbH * Veritone Digital

Licensed Music
“A Storm Is Coming” - Elias Music

“See What You’ve Done”
Written by Mary J. Blige, Darhyl Camper, Jr., Denisia Andrews and Brittany Coney
Performed by Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige appears courtesy of Mary Jane Productions, Inc.

Special Thanks
Abby Ginsberg
Abigail Disney
Alex Docta
Alex Hannibal
Allie Dillon
Allison Barahona
Amanda Scheper
Anthony Dillon
Bay Area Video Coalition Media Makers Fellowship
Beth Levison
Bonnie Cohen
Colin West
Dawn Sinclair Shapiro
De’Anna Henderson
Eddie Fourcell
Elaine Riddick
Ellen Pasternack
Elise Smith
Eric Dillon
Hannah McFaull
Hedgebrook Doc Lab
IDA DocuClub
IDFA Forum
IFP Spotlight on Docs
Isha Chari
Jane Dorotik
Jean Tsien
Jeanette Johnson
Jen Bradwell
John Railey
Kelly Duane de la Vega
Kristen G. Hilton
Kristi Jacobson
Kristi Woodham
Ladoris Cordell
Larry Womble
Leesha Gooseberry
Lisa Chanoff
Lucila Moctezuma
Marie Nelson
Milton Tabbot
Misty Rojo
N’Jeri Eaton
Nora Wilson
Pam Yates
Rashida Harmon
Robert Rosenthal
Ron Cohn
Sheffield Meet Market

Produced with the participation of State of Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Utah Film Commission.

Fiscal Sponsors
The Utah Film Center

Production Support Provided by
Chicken & Egg Pictures
Fork Films

Funding Provided by
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Perspective Fund
San Francisco Foundation - Bay Area Documentary Fund
Women in Film
Berkeley Film Foundation
Tribeca Film Institute - Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund – TFI Market Network Stipend
Koogle Foundation
Elizabeth Siegelman
Tara Health Foundation
Fund for Investigative Journalism
Tara Meehan
Bella Casares
From the Heart Productions
Eva and Bryan Shreir
Pacific Pioneer Fund
Lynn Feintech
Lisa Gelfand
Margot Golding
Erica and Steve Jamieson
Elizabeth King
Bridgette Lau
And others. A complete list available from PBS.

Belly of the Beast is a co-production of Belly of the Beast LLC, Idle Wild Films Inc., Black Public Media (BPM) and Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

This film was produced by Belly of the Beast LLC, which is solely responsible for its content.

(c) 2019 Belly of the Beast LLC. All rights reserved.

Had you heard of illegal sterilizations in women's prisons—or elsewhere—before? Do you think the film bringing these women's' stories to light will ultimately bring about change in the prison system?
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Had you heard of illegal sterilizations in women's prisons—or elsewhere—before? Do you think the film bringing these women's' stories to light will ultimately bring about change in the prison system?