Yale School of Public Health alumna Elizabeth Bayne, M.P.H. ’06, M.F.A., is the director of Chocolate Milk, a documentary that explores racial disparities in breastfeeding. A work-in-progress of the film is being shown this week (Tuesday, April 3, at 5 p.m. in Winslow Auditorium) as part of the 2018 YSPH Film Series. Bayne will travel from her home in California to be part of the event and to discuss her film with the audience.
“I’m thrilled to be returning to Yale to share my film with people who are as passionate about public health as I am,” Bayne said. “I couldn’t have made this film without my education at YSPH.”
Bayne started work on Chocolate Milk in 2014 as a web series of the same name, before expanding it into a feature film in 2016. The film is currently in production.
Describe Chocolate Milk. What is the central message?
EB: The central message behind the film is that when addressing disparities, especially in infant and maternal health, it is important to look beyond individual behavior to the socioeconomic and institutional barriers that may make a practice difficult to adopt.
How did you get the idea for making this film?
EB: I got the idea for making this film when reading an issue of The Nation’s Health from the American Public Health Association. On the cover page was an article by Donya Currie about the racial disparities in breastfeeding in the United States. Until that moment I did not know that breastfeeding was a challenge for women in the United States and that it was especially true for black women. It seemed like a reproductive justice issue and racial health disparity and I was curious about learning more and how I could get involved as a health communicator.
What was the hardest part about creating Chocolate Milk?
EB: The hardest part about creating Chocolate Milk was using all the information I had gathered from my ethnographic interviews with mothers through my web series and finding a narrative structure for the feature film to communicate the challenges of breastfeeding and move beyond statistics and talking-head interviews to get to the heart of the women affected and the very universal experience of motherhood.
What was the best part?
EB: The best part of producing Chocolate Milk has been all of the families that I’ve met and personal stories that I’ve heard across the United States that make me feel very connected to the community and very hopeful about our ability to overcome a lot of the barriers and institutional challenges that result in poor birth outcomes and breastfeeding outcomes for African-American families.
What has been the reaction of people who have seen the movie?
EB: The reaction from people who have seen the work-in-progress, because the film isn’t complete yet, has been very positive. Audiences immediately connect with the mother’s stories and are happy to have the issue of sexism and racism in health care highlighted, especially considering that many of my audiences are health workers who have spent decades working to achieve equity in health outcomes for women and their children.
Is Chocolate Milk having the impact that you hoped for?
EB: As a web series Chocolate Milk is definitely having the impact that I hoped for, which was a very modest goal of creating normalcy around the issue of breastfeeding within the African-American community. I’ve been very fortunate that the community has embraced the series as a welcome contribution to ongoing efforts on social media to increase images of black women breastfeeding, promote sustained breastfeeding and encourage more support for mothers who choose to feed their infants with human milk.
Are your currently working on another film or planning a future project.
EB: I’m always coming up with ideas for new projects. My latest project is a feature film that combines horror, feminist ideology and the criminal justice system. It’s a revenge thriller that was a semi-finalist in the Project Greenlight Clive Barker's Reel Fear Horror Pitch Contest and in the Women in Film/Blacklist Feature Writing Lab. I’m also developing a short documentary with a university in my hometown that would cover the villages that were established there by escaped slaves at the start of the Civil War.
Learn more about Bayne and Chocolate Milk