Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, this Emmy-winning documentary exposes a pattern of illegal sterilizations, modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.

US | 2020 | 81 minutes | Color | DVD | English | Order No. W201262 |


When a courageous young woman and a radical lawyer discover a pattern of illegal sterilizations in California’s women’s prisons, they wage a near-impossible battle against the Department of Corrections. With a growing team of investigators inside prison working with colleagues on the outside, they uncover a series of statewide crimes -- from inadequate health care to sexual assault to coercive sterilizations -- primarily targeting women of color. This shocking legal drama captured over 7-years features extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, demanding attention to a shameful and ongoing legacy of eugenics and reproductive injustice in the United States. 

BELLY OF THE BEAST is a co-production of Belly of the Beast LLC, Idle Wild Films Inc., Black Public Media (BPM) and Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.



"Whistleblower testimonies, expert commentary and powerful archival footage are well-paced throughout the film and reveal a darker truth when it comes to advocating for the rights of incarcerated people: Those on the frontline are not only fighting bad actors who abuse their power, they are also battling a public that at best does not care and at worst condones it."



"A powerful exposé of human rights abuses of women in the criminal justice system."

Human Rights Watch Film Festival

“Horrifying and fascinating all at once.”

"An exposé of modern-day eugenics in the United States."

"Erika Cohn's follow-up to her multi-award-winning THE JUDGE, tracks down a previously little-known story about enforced—and illegal—sterilization of female inmates in California's correctional facilities."

"Filmmaker Erika Cohn’s BELLY OF THE BEAST tackles a tough subject — the forced sterilization of women inmates at a California prison — with journalistic fire and sensitive artistry."

“It’s like an onion, and you just keep peeling and seeing just layers and layers and layers of systemic injustice on so many intersectional levels...absolutely worth watching for students.”

Beth Seymour ACT Human Rights Film Festival Managing Director


  • Emmy Award for Outstanding Current Affairs Documentary
  • American Library Association Notable Films for Adults 2022
  • 93rd Oscars Shortlist, Best Original Song
  • Special Jury Mention, Documentary Feature, Social Impact Media Awards
  • Peabody Award Nominee
  • Honorable Mention, American Bar Association Silver Gavel Awards
  • Best Director, Documentary Feature, Centre Film Festival
  • Honorable Mention, Best Feature Documentary Film, Womens Voices Now Film Festival
  • Opening Night Film, Human Rights Watch Film Festival
  • Opening Night Film, Repro Film Festival
  • Mill Valley Film Festival
  • Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival
  • Athena Film Festival
  • Philadelphia Latino Film Festival
  • Duluth Superior Film Festival
  • rePRO Film Fest
  • Vancouver International Black Film Festival
  • United Nations Association Film Festival
  • Montreal Black Film Festival
  • Hawaii International Film Festival
  • Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival
  • Heartland Film Festival


Erika Cohn

Erika Cohn is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director/producer who Variety recognized as one of 2017’s top documentary filmmakers to watch and was featured in DOC NYC’s 2019 “40 Under 40.” Most recently, Erika completed The Judge, a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated film about the first woman judge appointed to the Middle East’s Shari’a courts, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS’ 2018 Independent Lens series. (10/20)

Angela Tucker

Angela Tucker is a writer, director and Emmy nominated producer who works in narrative and documentary genres. Her directorial work includes “All Skinfolk, Ain’t Kinfolk,”a documentary short which aired PBS’ Reel South about a mayoral election in New Orleans. A Visiting Professor at Tulane University, Tucker was a Sundance Institute Women Filmmakers Initiative Fellow. (10/20)



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