William & Mary

A reel fight to eliminate the stigma of women's periods

  • Film discussion:
    Film discussion:  Lila Sugerman talks with W&M students during the 2019 Global Film Festival.  Courtesy photo
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During last month’s Academy Awards, 16-year-old Lila Sugerman, daughter of Andrew Sugerman ’93 and Sarah Sugerman ’92, won an Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for the film “Period. End of Sentence.”

The documentary is just one component of The Pad Project, a nonprofit organization seeking to eliminate the stigma menstruation carries in many parts of the world. It can be especially crippling in developing countries where there is a serious lack of education.

Students in college and from the Oakwood School in Los Angeles, California, along with peers and teachers, have created the organization, which partners with regions around the world to provide machines that supply women with sanitary pads, while creating a self-sufficient microeconomy for the area at the same time.

Sugerman’s film was shown at William & Mary during the university’s recent Global Film Festival. To find out more about the genesis of and inspiration for this project, the process of creating both the project and the documentary, and what she sees as the future of The Pad Project, W&M’s Global Research Institute spoke with Sugerman prior to Hollywood’s big night.

Tell me about The Pad Project and “Period. End of Sentence.”

About seven years ago, my English teacher and her daughter attended the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN, during which young women come to talk about women’s issues that aren’t talked about enough. They decided that they wanted to make a documentary about how girls can’t go to school because of their periods, and about how pads can allow girls to go to school. Our partner school is in India, and when we asked girls in that community about their school, they said that they didn’t go. They were very passionate about wanting to go when we asked them about it, so we started thinking about how we could make that happen. We decided to create The Pad Project and send a pad (making) machine to them to help them go to school. I think it’s really important to know that the entire project is run by girls under 25, so all of us are all in high school or college.

It shows how young people have a different perspective on solving issues worldwide. This is a group of teenage girls who are really passionate about these issues and want to make a difference. As part of the project, we thought we should film the whole process, to show the journey. So, about a year ago, we sent a film crew to India, and we hired this amazing director named Rayka Zehtabchi, who is super passionate about issues like these, and was willing to film and talk about these issues. It’s been a really crazy whirlwind since then.

What was your reaction when you found out that “Period. End of Sentence.” had been nominated for an Oscar?

We knew the documentary was good, but we thought that being Oscar nominated would be insane. No one expected it to happen, since because of the way our country is right now, we didn’t think people were going to be interested in a film focusing on women’s issues. In our category, we are actually the only project that has a female director, so it’s great to have that title as well. The fact that I’m an Oscar-nominated producer makes me wonder how it even happened. It’s just been a great experience.

What has the reaction to the documentary been like so far?

Showing the documentary to the girls in India was the best thing ever. We filmed the whole documentary with these girls and didn’t show it to them until it was done. When they saw it, they were laughing and crying, and they wanted a lot of other people to see it. It was incredible. They were really the ones we made it for, for women like them and women like us, who are shamed for our periods. Here, when we first saw it, there were a lot of tears, because we had worked on it for four years. It’s really been incredible for all of us.

What do you see as the future of the project?

Our two biggest goals are education and sustainability. We’re building a curriculum for schools to teach people more about periods, with the documentary as a really big part of it. We’re also hoping to speed our development of the pad machines so we can get a lot machines in a lot of communities in order to get girls back to school. We want the project to be sustainable, because we need the project and the communities with the machines to run on their own. We will obviously be there to communicate with them, but we also want there to be an element of sustainability. The really good thing about the machines is that they are by women for women; they use the machine to make pads and then sell them. We want to continue that sustainability and microeconomy model in the communities and expand to other places. We hope that this will really help with awareness, because there hasn’t been a documentary talking just about girls and their periods. That’s what we really want this to be about.