CFPR Seminar: THE GIFT: An animated film about ancient powers and menstruation. (watch online)

The gift follows a woman on the first day of her period. As her cramps worsen, she notices strange occurrences happening around her, the film visualises menstrual taboos, witchcraft, and empowerment. The film started as a reflection on the segregation of women throughout history, a twisting of past narratives that aimed to make women feel dirty, evil, and wrong. There are dozens of taboos and superstitions that are linked to menstruating women such as dairy curdling, crops wilting, tarnishing mirrors to name a few; all are generally perceived as negative, socially problematic, or even as a curse.

In this film I asked that, if these things are true, how then are they not seen as incredible feats of powerful magic. In the film I decided to take the superstition as fact and ask then why are people who menstruate not envied and seen as powerful creatures. 

Working closely with fellow members of the Weird Eye Collective, Hannah Stevens and Fiona Viani-Pericchi, to animate the film, the design for the central character was produced by illustrator Karl James Moutford. Sound production was by Ben Mitchell, and the voices of the central character (Brigid) was provided by Rowan Carmichael. The film was developed as part of the new creatives scheme with south west production company Calling the shots, funded by BBC Arts and British Arts Council. The parameters of the scheme were simply to show a version of living in modern Britain.

Menstruation and the mythology that surrounds it is an area of great study, both in the field of history as well as anthropology. Myths both negative and positive can be found in almost every community, culture, and religion on earth. They range in severity from not being allowed to make certain food or perm their hair to being excluded from their homes, religious events, or family. 

There is often a lack of consensus as to why these taboos exist, however there is almost certainly some link to patriarchal, political, and religious subjugation of women (and arguably people in general). Of course, menstruation as a bodily function predates religion, society, and even language. As with most things I believe it stems from fear, misunderstood things are often feared, and fear is a powerful thing that sways people of all backgrounds and genders. 

This fear of the power of women in particular also resonates with that of witches throughout history. Women who were working as midwives, healers or were simply characterised as unusual and troublesome, were often subject to horrific torture with very little or no evidence and no hope of restitution for loss of their lives. 

Menstrual blood itself has also been used to promote youthfulness as well as everlasting life. There is the belief that this blood above all other blood is cause for fear and alarm, in causing people to be sick, infected, infertile, and unclean. Only in 2016 was actual red blood seen in TV commercials advertising menstrual products, previously opting for blue watery fluids of no resemblance to any bodily fluid. There have been various movements throughout history that have attempted to end the stigma around periods in general, including period art, the free bleed movement, and various charities set up to help end period poverty. However, these issues still remain. I hope that this film will help to continue the conversation surrounding menstruation, albeit with a magical twist that may also empower. 

The film was broadcast on BBC Four on the 26th March 2020 as part of ‘Get Animated! BBC Introducing Arts’ it is now available on iPlayer.

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