Book Review: ‘The Billboard’ Themes Couldn’t Be More Relevant »

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At this pivotal moment in the fight for reproductive rights, Natalie Y. Moore The notice board comes at a time when its message could not be more relevant to today’s world. Moore’s play, which was released in March this year and will soon premiere as a live performance in conjunction with the 16th Street Theater next month sets the narrative on a fictional reproductive health clinic where its staff are forced to deal with opposition and controversy that is anything but hypothetical.

The piece focuses on the Black Women’s Health Initiative (BWHI), a medical and reproductive rights center operating in Englewood, Chicago. Led by Tanya Gray, alongside board chair Dawn Williamson and her assistant, Kayla Brown, the clinic soon finds itself unwittingly placed at the center of the abortion debate. News is starting to emerge that a billboard has been put up near the clinic, which reads in part “Abortion is genocide. The most dangerous place for a black child is in their mother’s womb.” Erected by Demetrius Drew, a staunch anti-abortion candidate and City Council candidate, the billboard quickly forces BWHI staff into a public battle that questions the clinic’s ability to reach the community it serves and how it can continue to operate in the neighborhood.

Shortly after the billboard appeared, BWHI staff chose to take a stand by creating their own billboard, one that depicts a group of black women smiling and coming together to toast next to the text that says “Black women have the right to make decisions for their families and their bodies. Abortion is personal care. #TrustBlackWomen.” From there, the story continues to address the ongoing struggles, realities, and fears that those who work at centers like BWHI face every day. By grounding it in Englewood and emphasizing the nuance and dimension of Chicago’s black community and culture, the story manages to expand on the intersectional struggle of overlapping racial, reproductive, and wealth inequalities.

Inspired by a real billboard in Dallas, Texas that sparked similar controversy to that seen in the play, it’s to Moore’s credit that the characters and world she created here feel so real. and multi-layered than them, despite the short story in length. Characters and ideas are portrayed with a wealth of detail and supreme sensitivity. No sentence is wasted and every word spoken and every action described is helpful to the story and the ideas it presents. The central conflict of the protagonists’ struggles was based on their determination to fight to maintain the autonomy of their bodies and their choices despite the many obstacles in their path. Following this struggle to vindicate their right to choose and the rights of all people to access this type of care makes for a greater appreciation of the real people who fight these battles day in and day out. To achieve that kind of empathy in such a short play is impressive.

While the anti-abortionists form the main point of opposition in the story, Moore also highlights another danger in the form of strategic politicians who show indifference and a lack of insight into the integral role of these clinics in the communities they support. However, they are not shy about using the issues to draw lines and create political divides. On the other hand, some in power would prefer to have nothing to say at all so as not to alienate their audience. Although not portrayed as a physical danger, Moore carefully shows how inaction by those in leadership positions can be just as damaging. Moore uses her characters to examine and represent the various views and arguments on reproductive rights, all of which are portrayed faithfully to the complex subject matter.

The work done by BWHI staff is portrayed as integral but often scrutinized and at times downright dangerous given their controversial function. As the real world witnesses the potential overthrow of Roe V. Wade (an ongoing story that makes the exit of The notice board particularly relevant today), readers here are treated to an authentic and important look at the harsh realities that accompany the operation of clinics like the one in history despite the immense pushback by opponents of reproductive freedom and access to abortion. As abortion accessibility continues to be under threat, Tanya, Dawn and Kayla’s fight for their safety and that of their clients highlights the real dangers and feelings expressed.

While on the surface it is a story about a clinic’s battle against the opposition, Moore expands her story further to address other topics such as the repercussions of political indifference, urban development , patriarchy, and society’s failure to protect its most vulnerable individuals, especially in this case, black women. The issues raised here are all individually important and will hopefully inspire its readers to better understand and critically question the many institutions and norms that our society has produced and maintained.

Apart from the main text, the book also features a foreword and afterword, as well as a Q&A with Toni Bond. Bond is actively involved in the reproductive justice movement in Chicago where she led the Chicago Abortion Fund and is a leader in the Trust black women collective. These are all short but insightful additions to the text.

As mentioned above, The notice board comes out next month with a stage adaptation. The play is directed by TaRon Patton and will run from June 23 to July 17 at the Wirtz Center at Northwestern University. Tickets are available here. You can also buy the book from Haymarket Books here. If the play resembles its written counterpart, audiences are guaranteed to be treated to a gripping story that will resonate long after the curtain closes.

The notice board is available in most bookstores and on the publisher’s website.


Third Coast Review is Chicago’s local website specializing in coverage of Chicago area arts and culture. Read more on thirdcoastreview.com

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