Red, White and Blue: the Roe v Wade short film that’s gunning for an Oscar

Australian producer Sara McFarlane and British director Nazrin Choudhury talk about their short film.

Red, White and Blue is an Oscar-hopeful short film made in response to the overturning of Roe v Wade in the US. In 23 minutes, it tells the devastating, and sadly far too relevant, story of a single mother traveling with her daughter in search of a much-needed abortion.

Released in late 2023, this American drama short film is written, directed, and produced by debut director Nazrin Choudhury. It stars Brittany Snow and Juliet Donenfeld as the mother and daughter on a road trip to Illinois to access a legal abortion clinic (abortion is currently illegal in their home state or Arkansas).

Red, White and Blue premiered at the Edmonton International Film Festival on September 30, 2023, where it won the Grand Jury Award for Best Live Action Short. Now, it’s nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 96th Academy Awards.

I spoke to director British filmmaker Nazrin Choudhury and Australian producer, Sara McFarlane about the journey of Red, White and Blue.

Tell me about how you wound up making this film – what compelled you to write this story?

Nazrin: In the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, it was impossible for so many of us to not feel powerless. So I turned to the only tool at my disposal in order to regain some sense of agency and power through storytelling. I wrote Red, White and Blue in one sitting in the course of two to three hours. I left no stone unturned in my determination to make the film which has preoccupied me for the best part of the last 18 months or so.

Did the story evolve as you went into production?

Nazrin: The story has remained in tact from page to screen aside from adjusting for practical considerations during filming and evolving certain ideas with filming constraints in mind. However, the heart and the essence of the story remain the same. It’s the reason why most of our cast and crew signed up to work on the film, so it was important to honor that as well as the original story purpose.

This is your first time directing, how did that feel?

Nazrin: The first day was spent reminding myself to call ‘action’. I have been on set many times as a writer-producer but usually someone else is directing. However, the adrenaline soon set in and being the director is such an all-encompassing role that you have no time for anything except to do your job and, hopefully, do it well. I was fortunate to have an incredible cast and crew that gave me a lot of support as a first-time director.

What was the most challenging part of the shoot, and the most rewarding?

Nazrin: Every part of this shoot was challenging in some way, especially when you are trying to bring high production values to a film that has limited resources. The most rewarding part of this has been seeing our cast and crew feel validated for their role in bringing this story to life, in spite of those limited resources, and landing an Oscar nomination in the process which is a testament to their work.

Read: Oscar nominations 2024: snubs and surprises

Red, White & Blue obviously evokes the colours of the US flag, but there are other things these colours could represent …

Nazrin: The Supreme Court’s decision to effectively reverse Roe v Wade affects everyone living under the flag of the United States. The colors of the flag are symbolic of the themes in our film: liberty and freedom (red); innocence and purity (white); justice, equality and perseverance (blue).

Red, White and Blue. Image: Majic Ink Productions

Sara, how did you come aboard the production?

Sara: I was initially brought on in a business affairs role to advise and then after production wrapped, I began to work in a producer capacity, alongside Nazrin, to ensure the film was able to be finished and have its release and a successful journey through the festival circuit and beyond.

How does the story resonate with you, Sara?

Sara: It was incredibly frustrating watching the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the winding back of fundamental freedoms in a place I now call my home. I’ve always genuinely believed in the power of film to make real world changes and from the very beginning I had always believed Red, White and Blue had the power to do that, which is a testament to Nazrin’s storytelling. When Nazrin invited me to join the team, I felt like this was something real and actionable I could get involved with.

How does it feel to have your film Oscar-nominated?

Sara: Surreal and at the same time I’m so happy that the Academy has recognized the importance of Red, White and Blue – particularly ahead of an election year. With that said, it is not lost on me that this film resonates so widely right now because of the restrictions placed on others’ reproductive rights and freedoms. So I guess, in a way, it’s bittersweet.

Have you watched the other nominees in your category? How do you think you’ll fare?

Sara: I have! It’s an extremely tough year. Knight of Fortune is excellent – a balance of dark comedy and a beautiful story about friendship, love and loss; Invincible is extremely moving particularly once I knew it was based on a true story; Henry Sugar is visually stunning and of course Wes Anderson’s work speaks for itself, and The After has a really, really strong performance from David Oyelowo. All that to say – of course I will always be a little bit biased because I care so deeply for our film, and I genuinely feel like Nazrin did the most incredible job telling this story in a measured way, but truthfully, I am not even thinking about how we will fare. Everyone’s work in this category is deserving. 

Red, White and Blue is available to rent here.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports