‘Judy Blume Forever’ filmmakers: Author’s radical honesty impacted generations

"Judy Blume Forever," a documentary about the famed young-adult novelist, is now streaming online. Photo courtesy of Prime Video

“Judy Blume Forever,” a documentary about the famed young-adult novelist, is now streaming online. Photo courtesy of Prime Video

NEW YORK, April 28 (UPI) — Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok say their new documentary, Judy Blume Forever, is meant to show that the 85-year-old author of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Tiger Eyes is as relevant today as she was when her children’s and young-adult novels were published in the 1970s and ’80s.

“She has such an extraordinary impact on generations of readers with her radical honesty, her emotional openness, her acceptance of vulnerability and making mistakes and imperfection, her characters who had messy lives and thought messy thoughts and explored their bodies in a time when women weren’t supposed to be exploring their bodies,” Wolchok told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

“All of these things were radical at the time Judy was writing and, in some situations, still feel radical today, which is a whole other conversation about how full-circle we have come in terms of women’s bodily autonomy and sex education for girls.

“She also laid the groundwork for so much of the literature that kids and teenagers are reading today, [incorporating] the idea that you can be truthful, that books for kids can be truthful [and offer] this sort of first-person, honest account of a life.”

The majority of the critically acclaimed, 97-minute documentary — which is streaming on Prime Video — shows Blume speaking directly to the viewers about her life and work.

There is also archival footage of her reading her work out loud to children and interviews with artists such as Molly Ringwald, Lena Dunham, Samantha Bee and Anna Konkle, who described how Blume’s work inspired them.

“She is so energetic. She’s always been completely honest with us. She’s very direct and forthcoming. She’s funny,” Pardo said of Blume, who is living her best life as the owner of a bookstore in Key West, Fla.

“She’s sexy. She and [her husband] George have so much chemistry,” Pardo added. “It’s so much fun to be around them. She’s delightful and she’s kind of a badass.”

The filmmakers pointed to how Blume has been fighting back against censorship since the 1980s when some people objected to her coming-of-age tales that touched on sensitive topics such as menstruation, masturbation and first-time intercourse.

“She’s been really outspoken about what’s going on in the United States right now. She’s a real fighter,” Pardo said, referring to laws being introduced or passed that pertain to sex education and the movement by some to keep Blume’s books off of school library shelves.

Wolchok blamed adults who fear and want to control what kids think and feel for the backlash against Blume’s work.

“Parents have tried in the 1980s and now, unfortunately, it’s parents who are very mobilized because of social media and conservative activist groups, but it is politicized, it’s legislated,” she said.

Despite Blume’s willingness to participate in their project, the filmmakers said the author was reluctant to talk about herself.

“She loves talking about her characters and the stories she wrote,” Wolchok said.

Thousands of letters Blume received over the decades are housed in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, but the author keeps their identities a secret to protect their privacy.

The women telling Blume’s story asked if she could contact a few fans with whom she has kept up long-term, meaningful correspondences to see if they might be willing to open up for the cameras about why they think the author is so special.

“I think it would be important to the film,” Wolchok recalled telling Blume. “The way we handle Lorri Kim and Karen Chilstrom’s stories — with delicacy and sensitivity — I think she feels really good about.”

A film version of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret — starring Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates and Abby Ryder Fortson — opens in theaters Friday.

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