Margaret Sanger Is Getting the Biopic Treatment

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

With abortion rights under attack in many states, a biopic about the woman who fought so passionately for a woman’s right to choose is extremely timely.


Deadline reports that the story of Margaret Sanger, via the novel Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman, will be brought to the big screen by Black Bicycle Entertainment and producer Justine Ciarrocchi. Ciarrocchi is perhaps best known for partnering with Jennifer Lawrence on Zelda, which is still in development. Though fictionalized, the novel follows Sanger’s work to educate women on their sexual health and the fight to legalize contraception, which ultimate lead to the founding of Planned Parenthood (the organization is, coincidentally or not, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year):

Published by HarperCollins in March, Terrible Virtue focuses on Sanger as the daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and mother worn down by 13 children, who vowed her life would be different. Following Sanger’s training as a nurse, her work alongside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists and other progressives and eventually her devotion to the cause of legalizing contraception, the film examines the risks she took and the impact she had that lasts to the present day.

Of the book, Ciarrocchi says, “The scope of Sanger’s complexity, both as a revolutionary and human being, is extraordinary. I blew through Feldman’s novel with such urgency, struck by the nuance, transparency and daring of her portrait. Her story explores the often brutal nature of activism and, most audaciously, the plight of the female soul.”

As is the case with these kinds of films, it’s not clear how historically accurate the movie will be. (For example, in the brief information given so far, there’s no mention of whether or not Sanger’s use of the language of eugenics will be represented, though Feldman appears to have at least touched upon it in her book.) But perhaps this will be the rare biopic that expresses a figure’s life in full. From Terrible Virtue’s blurb:

This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin



Before the comments turn into an echo chamber of how racist she was, I hope people will at least look at the article linked above here:

It provides historical context and largely debunks the claims that she was interested in eugenics for the purposes of racial selection and notes that many at the time, including WEB Du Bois held similar beliefs about eugenics. It also outlines how even those most critical of her do not see her as racist, and how she was actually very progressive in her views on race for the time period.

Can we stop holding women in history to impossible contemporary standards? Historical context matters.