Never Rarely Sometimes Always Captures Today’s Reality For Women’s History Month

Eliza Hittman changes the conversation about abortion by listening to her characters 

InNever Rarely Sometimes Always, writer/director Eliza Hittman takes on one of the most complex and difficult issues of our time with eye-opening simplicity and heartfelt honesty. Her story of two teenage girls — Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and Skylar (Talia Ryder) — who travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York City to access the necessary health care to handle an unwanted pregnancy struck home with audiences and critics. It still holds a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. For Women’s History Month this year, we are highlighting films by women that capture not only what the past looked like, but what it means to be female today.

Watch Never Rarely Sometimes Always Now.

The official trailer for Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Writer/director Eliza Hittman on the set of Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

The film began in 2012, when Hittman read about Savita Halappanavar, a young Irish woman who died of sepsis after being denied an abortion. Horrified that such a thing could happen, Hittman began considering how she could translate the story to film. By 2016, the elements that conspired to make that tragedy possible—lack of healthcare, disinformation campaigns, attacks on women’s rights—were as present in the United States as they were in Ireland. “Tragically it became so easy to translate it to the States,” Hittman noted

Over three films, Hittman has proven herself, as Indiewire wrote, “one of contemporary cinema’s most empathetic and skilled chroniclers of American youth.” In writing Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Hittman focused on the plight of one young woman and her friend living in rural Pennsylvania, a character who would have to come to New York City to get the medical attention she needed. To understand these women, Hittman traced the steps they would take in the film. “I went to a lot of small towns in Pennsylvania,” Hittman remembers. “I got on the bus and rode it into Port Authority. It was really about asking myself, ‘If I were them, what would I see?’” In addition, Hittman spoke to scores of young women in similar circumstnaces and visited both abortion clinics and pro-life pregnancy centers.

Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) in Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Shooting for 29 days in both New York City and Pennsylvania, Hittman kept their film world as close to real experience as she could. She cast newcomers for her leads. Flanigan was a punk musician who had never been in a film before, but whom Hittman got to know from her YouTube videos. HIttman even cast a counselor she met in a clinic in Queens, NY, to play herself. While shooting in Pennsylvania, the production team at one point had to make a statement to the police that they were not involved in human trafficking after a nasty rumor spread through the community. At a Planned Parenthood office in New York, they shot their story in front of an actual anti-abortion demonstration that just happened to occur that day.

Even at the premiere of Never Rarely Sometimes Always at the Sundance Film Festival—where it won it a Special Jury Award—history and cinema collided. The day it was shown to the world for the first time, President Trump became the first US president to address the anti-abortion March for Life in person. But in dealing with reproductive rights, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is never a polemic, but a poignant and pointed observation of the lives of women. As the New York Times points out, it “tells a seldom-told story about abortion. And it does so without cant, speeches, inflamed emotions and — most powerfully — without apology…. Here, a woman’s right to self-determination has become the stuff of a new and radical heroic journey.”