Despite what MTV would like you to believe, teen pregnancies—whether planned or accidental—have been taking place long before reality television emerged. In some instances, young mothers are supported by their families, who are able to afford the resources required to raise a child. In less fortunate cases, pregnant girls are abandoned and left to deal with the emotional and physical stresses of impending motherhood on their own.
Little Black Spiders, a 2012 Belgian film in Dutch by writer-director Patrice Toye, tells the true story of teenage girls forced to live out their pregnancies in a hospital attic in 1978 Belgium. The story centres on Katherina, a 16-year-old orphan who two nuns running the attic call “Katja” upon her arrival. “Everyone has a different name in the attic,” the wide-eyed, soft-spoken teen is told. This abrupt and non-negotiable name-change marks the start of Katja’s loss of agency.
We learn that Katja became pregnant through an affair with her married Greek teacher. Each of the teens at the attic carry different burdens. Free-spirited Roxanne doesn’t know who her baby’s father is; meanwhile, quiet Mia was raped by her uncle. Bleach-blonde Liesbeth must choose between her devout Catholic parents and her baby’s father, a professional soldier; and Clara, the oldest of the girls is experiencing pregnancy for a second time.
As time passes, several of the teens begin to suspect that a dark destiny awaits the birth of their babies. Katja and Roxanne, however, make a pact to stay by each other’s side and raise their children together.
Little Black Spiders is about friendship, love, and coming-of-age. Audiences who have seen Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides will notice similar elements: dreamy, out-of-focus shots; muted, pastel tones; religious iconography; and a good soundtrack. Like the Virgin’s Lisbon sisters, the young women in Little Black Spiders take fate into their own hands. The difference is that they refuse to let death become their legacy.
Little Black Spiders screens at the Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour Street) on Saturday (March 9) at 9 p.m. as part of the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival.