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‘Aftershock’ Sheds Light On The Maternal Health Crisis And The Need For Change

Written by on September 12, 2022

While attending Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, film critic Reggie Ponder spoke with co-directors Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt about their new documentary Aftershock, as well as Bruce McIntyre, III, Omari Maynard and Shawnee Benton Gibson, who were featured in the documentary.

Aftershock centers on the U.S. material health crisis and the families of Amber Rose Isaac and Shamony Gibson — both of whom passed away due to complications with childbirth: Isaac passed away 13 days following the birth of her son in October 2019, and Gibson due to an emergency C-section in April 2020. Omari Maynard, Isaac’s partner, soon connected with Bruce McIntyre, Gibson’s partner, and the two turned toward activism. 

According to the CDC’s 2020 findings, the U.S. maternal mortality rate for Black women is 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the average of white women.

Aftershock follows McIntyre, Maynard and Shawnee Benton Gibson, Shamony Gibson’s mother, as they turn toward activism in the birth justice movement and, with the support of their families and communities, galvanize others in demand of legislative justice and institutional change.

The film received awards at Sundance Film Festival and Full Frame Film Festival, and is now streaming on Hulu. Hear a segment of Reggie “The Reel Critic” Ponder’s conversation with the filmmakers and activists below, and stream the full interview at 

Reggie Ponder: While I was attending the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, I got a chance to speak with the people behind the documentary Aftershock, which looks at the maternal health crisis. The deaths of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac, due to complications with childbirth, galvanized their partners, families and communities to make sure these preventable deaths won’t happen to others. I asked them about grief, and here’s an excerpt from that interview.

Bruce McIntyre, III: My name is Bruce McIntyre, III, I am the partner to the late Amber Rose Isaac and I’m the founder of the saveArose Foundation. I founded saveArose after losing my life partner, and what we do is to combat and dismantle the systemic flaws within the medical system and redirect the course of birthing equity towards better birthing solutions. Grief, for me, has been finding my power, finding the power and the strength in vulnerability. Being vulnerable, it actually energizes me to keep pushing forward and, like I said in the film, when we keep pushing forward, doors open up for us. 

Omari Maynard: My name is Omari Maynard. I am here via conduit of Shamony Gibson and Amber Isaac Rose. Shamony is my life partner, she passed away in 2019. And we are here today to make sure that her name stays alive, and that we champion the cause of eradicating the maternal health crisis. As I moved through my grief, I realized that, in grief, you have your greatest growth. And through that, I’ve allowed myself to feel, and that’s something that men usually don’t do, or just not known to do. And through those, through the filming process, I’ve allowed myself to emotionally stretch and learn how to use these dark energies, these dark feelings in order to create something positive and then, you know, emanate out into the world. 

Shawnee Benton Gibson: Greetings. My name is Shawnee Renee Benton Gibson, and I am one of the subjects of the critically-acclaimed Aftershock documentary, the mother of Shamony Makeba Gibson, and, I was about to say, like a spiritual mother for Amber Rose Isaac. Never met her, but feel her deeply. What I say every time I get an opportunity is that I can still lead and be a champion for the dismantling, as Omari was saying, of maternal mortality in the crisis with Black and Brown birthing people in this country, and even abroad. I lost my daughter, but I have a greater responsibility to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen, and, as a leader in community, as somebody who has experienced birth trauma, I think that it’s on me and the folks that I am privileged to co-create with to continue this fight, and so that the deaths are in vain.

Tonya Lewis Lee: Hi, I’m Tonya Lewis Lee, and I’m the co-director and co-producer of the film Aftershock, that follows Omari, Shawnee and Bruce as they are activated by the grief from the loss of their loved one from childbirth complication. 

Paula Eiselt: Hi, I’m Paula Eiselt, the other-co director and co-producer of Aftershock. It’s a great privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to lifting up the stories of the amazing people here, to honor and memorialize the lives of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac and I hope that this film can be used as a tool to shift birthing culture in America and achieve true birth equity for all American women.

RP: While Aftershock is an important piece of work that highlights the ongoing efforts to prevent these types of deaths from ever happening again, it is also a celebration of the lives of Shamony and Amber, this is a must-see, and is now streaming on Hulu. 

Learn more about Aftershock here.

Follow Reggie “The Reel Critic” Ponder on Twitter and Instagram.

Hosted and produced by Reggie Ponder

Introduction written by Morgan Ciocca

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