Monday, August 26, 2019

Montgomery filmmakers seek the truth behind one of history's most prominent medical pioneers and those who suffered at his hands

"It moved me, and I was inspired to tell it." -"Remembering Anarcha" director Josh Carples

  When one Montgomery man learned the questionable tale of "the father of modern gynecology" - Dr. James Marion Sims - he felt compelled to pave over it with facts and set the record straight. But perhaps more importantly, he wanted to present the unsung story of the brave women who suffered at Sims' hands.

  Directed by Josh Carples (Terrible Master Films) and co-produced by C. DeWayne Cunningham (Carolyn Jean’s Son Visions) and Royce Williams (803 Films), "Remembering Anarcha" boldly chases the truth behind the career of Dr. Sims. The film examines which medical achievements can truly be attributed to him and how he contributed to the field of gynecology. And for the first time, it introduces the women who were not mere patients but enslaved women who truly suffered, typically without anesthesia, and who were experimented on in an inhumane manner by the physician.

  The film begs the question: Does Sims deserve such a lofty place in medical history, complete with statues memorializing him?

  Notably, last year a statue of Sims was removed from Central Park in New York City. A similar statue stands in a prominent place on Goat Hill in Montgomery, Ala. on the front lawn of the Capitol Complex.

  Sims ran a medical practice in Montgomery from 1840 to 1853. During that time, his practice was the largest in the Capital City and arguably the largest in the state. It was here that he treated many enslaved women and during which time developed a technique for treating vesicovaginal fistulas, and he created an early form of what is now the modern speculum.

  Sims' experiments in the area of gynecology were performed on a number of enslaved women, including one he actually purchased for the sole purpose of conducting experiments on. The three women identified as being subjects of Sims' experiments - as they are mentioned in his own records - are known today by their first names: Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy. He performed similar surgeries on Anarcha 30 times. Sims used no anesthesia on any of the three women.

  Recently, an invited audience experienced the film at a private screening of "Remembering Anarcha." Those in attendance viewed the 91-minute documentary and participated in a question and answer session with the filmmakers.

  Carples says:

    "This film started with a piece of art. I was in downtown Montgomery one day, and I decided to stop by More Than Tours to talk to my friend Michelle Browder about a documentary idea I had. She wasn’t in, but on the sidewalk near the Court Square Fountain was an art statue of a woman in chains. Under the statue were some fliers, so I picked one up and went home. The statue was a representation of Anarcha Westcott, and the flier mentioned her and J. Marion Sims."

  Surprised that he wasn't previously aware of Sims, Carples said: "I thought that if I didn’t know about this, and I’m from here, how many other people might not know about it?"

  The director says:

    "At that point, I contacted two close friends of mine who are also filmmakers - C. DeWayne Cunningham and Royce Williams - and I asked them if they would be interested in helping me produce this. They jumped on board immediately, and together we began pursuing this story."

  "Remembering Anarcha" features interviews with Dr. Kirby I. Bland, Michelle Browder (director of the nonprofit I Am More Than and owner of More Than Tours), Dr. LaToya Clark, Professor Harriet E. Amos Doss, J.C. Hallman (author of the forthcoming book, "The Anarcha Quest: The Story of a Slave and a Surgeon"), Kevin King (The King's Canvas), and former Alabama State Senator Henry “Hank” Sanders. The film also features actor Kim Thomas who offers an emotional theatrical portrayal of Anarcha.

  During the discussion with the filmmakers following the private screening, Carples said, "The challenge for documentary work is not having a script." He said he was "...trying to build a story out of these great interviews."

  When asked by an audience member how he approached individuals for interviews, Carples said, "I want to interview people who know more than I do. I let the people on the screen tell the story."

  Several members of the viewing audience commended the filmmakers for their "medically-accurate storytelling" and the "respectful" way they presented the story.

  When asked by one audience member how the material presented in the film can be linked to disparities and racial prejudice in the medical field today, Carples said, "I hope that this documentary sparks those conversations."

  Carples also directed "Commit to the Song: The Joe Thomas Jr. Guitar Pull" (2018/Terrible Master Films), which shares the story of the monthly concert and storytelling event at Montgomery's Cloverdale Playhouse. That film is currently available on

  Noting that he and the coproducers are independent filmmakers who completed the project without backing from any studio or any investors, Carples says:

    "We pursued this story because we thought it was interesting, compelling, and important. So if anyone believes in this story and would like to help us submit to more film festivals or help cover costs associated with that - travel, lodging, getting a DCP made, etc. - click here to help us via PayPal ( or contact us through for Venmo or Cash App options. We appreciate any and all help we receive."

  Carples says it will be a while before the film is available for public viewing " we are in the process right now of submitting to film festivals. Of course, those cost money, and there are no guarantees, but those are a great way to possibly find a distributor for the film to get it to a wider audience."

  Editor's note: Josh Carples is the managing editor of the Capital City Free Press.

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent, and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama, and he has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.

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