Spotless: Tackling Period Poverty

Spotless is a short film about period poverty. In the film, we follow the 15-year-old Ruby who doesn’t dare to ask her mother for sanitary products because she knows there’s not enough money.

At least 500 million women and girls globally lack access to the facilities they need to manage their periods. 1.25 billion women and girls have no access to a safe, private toilet; 526 million don’t have a toilet at all, according to ActionAid.

The issue of period poverty affects those lacking access to safe, hygienic menstrual products and/or who lack the tools to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes as a result of stigma and discrimination.

Emma Branderhorst is a Dutch director passionate about showing a realistic representation of reality through storytelling. We caught up with her to discuss her Oscar-qualifying short film, Spotless.

I don’t have a personal experience with period poverty but during my research on the taboo of menstruation, I found an article about period poverty. Period poverty has a double taboo, first because of menstruation and second because of poverty. That’s why people don’t talk about it. In the research, I found out that it’s way more nuanced, it’s not only about having money for period products, but it’s about consideration. Imagine having 2 daughters and you all have your periods at the same time but you also need to buy laundry detergent or pay for the school trip. For people with a weekly budget of 50-70 euros, it’s a lot. It is so hard to imagine how it is to experience period poverty and that’s what we tried to do with Spotless.

I created the film because I want to give young girls like Ruby a face. We read a lot about period poverty nowadays, but how does it actually feel? What kind of problems do they have?  More importantly, in the film, we see the big responsibility the young girls carry on their shoulders even though it is not their problem at all. 

We started the research on Spotless almost 2.5 years ago. We got the funding together in 3 months and after we were funded we rewrote the script. Together with Milou, the writer, we wanted to create a film about the taboo of period but during our research, we found an article about period poverty – the double taboo, on period and on poverty. The journey was amazing, we did a lot of research and really tried to create an intimate and subtle story but because we were a small team and we had less money and even less time to shoot the film, it was also a big challenge. However, it all worked out well. 

It was very important to me that we make a film on this theme, to create awareness for the people who experience period poverty and help them with this horrible problem. Of course, it was very hard for me, and I felt a lot of pressure when I made the film, but I always had the bigger picture in mind and that really helped me! 

There is more research about period poverty in The Netherlands because people open up more, and we know more stories. In Amsterdam, 25% of women cannot afford period products. When making the film, I was shocked that 1 in 10 women in the whole country couldn’t afford period products. Due to the economic crisis and many other problems, this number has probably increased.   

I really hope that through this film, we create more awareness of period poverty, that we give those young women a face and that we let people see how it is to experience period poverty. It might be hard to understand the impact if you have not experienced it, and with SPOTLESS we let you experience and understand the feeling. In the end, I hope that we solve this problem. No one should feel uncomfortable when they have their period, everybody deserves a normal period with normal and hygienic products.

It feels unreal and exciting to be considered for an Oscar! We are doing an Oscar campaign right now and I hope our film will be considered for the shortlist. 

As for what’s next for me, I will keep working on new films, mostly films from the female perspective. I think there are many untold stories from this perspective. I would love to make a feature film and I’m currently working on that. I would love to make films about unspoken subjects, to create awareness. I like to keep my films very small, always between a small group of people who experience the same problem. 

Watch the trailer of Spotless here:

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