Pro-Life Ashley Bratcher takes on Big Pharma in Latest Film Project
Thalidomide and Mifepristone
A few weeks ago, I was sickened to learn that the Supreme Court has, at this time, upheld the continued distribution of mail order abortion drug mifepristone. This drug, in addition to acting as agents of murder, have been demonstrated as harmful, and have not undergone sufficient testing.
In light of this recent event, it is my honor to share about a forthcoming film, Pharma, which tells the story of another untested drug, Thalidomide. Hailed as a miracle medicine in the 60s, the drug was administered to pregnant women prior to achieving full FDA approval. As a result, thousands of infants around the world were born without arms and legs in the worst manmade medical disaster in history. Pharma is about the brave doctor, Frances Kelsey, who exposed the FDA corruption that hailed a dangerous, untested substance as a miracle drug.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of interviewing Ashley Bratcher, creator and producer of Pharma about this compelling new film. A founding CEO of Simple Jane Films, Bratcher starred in Princess Cut, one of my very favorite movies, before garnering media attention for her “breakout role” as Abby Johnson in the 2019 pro-life film, Unplanned. It is my pleasure to share my conversation with Ashley, as the film moves from pre-production to production in just a few days!
Ashley Bratcher starred in the 2019 film Unplanned, about an abortion clinic manager who not only leaves the industry, but joins the fight to save babies’ lives. Based on the true story of Abby Johnson, Unplanned surprised movie critics by grossing $19 million, in spite of minimal advertisement (television and radio stations refused to endorse it), the R-rating (due to the graphic nature of abortion), and the small number of theaters that picked it up. Clearly, the movie’s success was a beautiful act of God!
Although I found it to be a very difficult movie to watch and I have only seen it once, I am so grateful for how the Lord has used the movie Unplanned. The film ends with information for those who are working in the abortion industry and would like to leave. And, according to director Chuck Konzelman, in a testimony to Congress, 94 workers contacted the ministry. Unplanned also preceded the historical and miraculous overturning of Roe v. Wade. “When Unplanned happened… the timing couldn’t have been more divine, when everything was going on in our country,” Ashley says. “And then we saw the overturn of Roe v. Wade and I would like to believe Unplanned played a part in saving babies’ lives.”
From Unplanned to Simple Jane
Much like Dr. Frances Kelsey, the FDA whistleblower and inspiration for Pharma, Ashley has experienced censoring in her line of work. While Kelsey’s supervisors warned her to overlook the bribery and fraudulence at the core of the thalidomide testimonials, Ashley has been asked to tone down her family values so that she can fit in, in Hollywood. “I have seen that it’s hard to be in the film industry as an actress and to have an opposing opinion to the majority of liberal Hollywood,” Ashley says. “I’ve been told by several people to, you know, maybe not be so loud.”
As an actress of faith whose convictions supersede her desire to please others, “that doesn’t sit well,” Ashley says, “because I am who I am.” Ashley feels that “when most people get to know [her], they see that [she’s] a genuine person,” who is compassionate and willing to “hear people out.” But, she adds, “you don’t always get that chance when you’re auditioning and you’re trying to move your career forward.”
For these reasons, after Unplanned, Ashley felt prepared for her career to possibly take a new direction. “It had been put on my heart like, ‘Hey, Ashley. If you’re gonna work, you need to be prepared that you might not get as many calls,” she notes. “And after Unplanned, [my agent Shelby and I] were both kind of like, ‘So, what are we gonna do? I mean, she didn’t necessarily have a job because she had been working with me as a publicist, and we were both at this crossroad.”
At that crossroad, Ashley felt the Lord leading her in a new direction. “He’s the One who… gave me the courage to step out and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to make work. I’m going to tell stories that matter,” Ashley says. “I think, for me, I’ve really been attracted to those stories that amplify light.”
With the support of “a lot of wonderful mutual friends,” Simple Jane Films was born.
Knowing she wanted to produce a film on her own, Ashley began the long process of sifting through scripts on CoverFly, a website that connects writers with moviemakers. Written by Dori Zavala, Pharma was the first script that “really resonated” with Ashley. “I like the stories that aren’t necessarily well-known,” Ashley says. “I was so, just, blown away that I had never heard [Dr. Kelsey’s] story,” Ashley explains. “Dr. Frances Kelsey fought within the FDA, stood up against big pharma. She risked her career and family to expose this very dangerous drug and keep it off the US market.” Female-driven, the script also “has clout,” Ashley says, noting that “the script was recognized in the top ten percent of the Academy’s Nickel Fellowship, which is huge in the industry.”
But finding a terrific script to work with isn’t the same as finding a solid backer to invest in the production process. Pre-production has been a long and challenging period for Ashley and the team at Simple Jane– one that has been stretching her in her faith. “It’s been a test of faith,” Ashley says, “and the only thing that I can look at it and think is that, you know, God’s timing has always been better than our own.” While one major Hollywood studio offered an LOI (Letter of Intent) for Pharma, Ashley recalls that there were “so many hoops to jump through and just red tape.” Although they “had one big advocate [at the studio]… she wasn’t able to get [Pharma] to the next level,” Ashley explains.
Another “major streaming studio” (Ashley can’t mention names due to disclosure agreements), decided that Pharma was “too dark” for them. “And you can imagine the top three streaming services’ content,” Ashley remarks with a wry edge. “They said the content was ‘too dark.’ So I have a lot of questions about that.”
Some studios were reticent, understandably, because of the pandemic and the uncertainty as to “what the theatrical world was going to look like.” Other investors, Ashley notes, “were worried about it being a controversial topic.” Ashley’s response? “This is a real story. It’s true. It’s not controversial,” she says. “We’re not making a political statement. We’re just telling a story. If you find it controversial, then that’s something for you to consider why.” Acknowledging that some people will consider the retelling to be controversial, Ashley says, “that’s okay, because some people will, but there’s more discussion to be had if they do.”
Angel Studios Partnership
Ultimately, the Simple Jane team brought their project to Angel Studios, the production company behind the record-setting Chosen series. “The Chosen had set the record for the highest crowd-funded series of all time,” Ashley notes. “And it became the most successful one, the most watched. And we saw that all of their investors had received a hundred and twenty percent return.” With Angel, Ashley explains, “the general public gets to support the movie that they think should be made. And they’re not donating, they’re actually investing in the project.”
As of early January, Pharma had received $1.6 million in “interest-expressed in making the movie,” Ashley informed me. That means that those who expressed an interest in the project have a spot reserved. “As soon as the official offering goes live,” Ashley explains, “those people are first in line to be investors.” These investors will own part of the movie. “So it’s a very different model,” Ashley says, noting that, “it’s exciting because the audience, the public, is the one who says, ‘I want this movie made,’ and we’re really excited about that.” Production is slated to begin in May– tomorrow at the time of this writing!
“That’s our goal, because we think it’s really timely and we need to tell the story now,” Ashley told me, in January. “So I believe that the timing of this project and the way He’s working things out will be the perfect time, despite my discouragement sometimes. I know that when this happens, my heart will be so fulfilled, and I know that He is behind it.”
A Personal Note
Although I was initially interested in Pharma because one of my favorite actresses is creating it, I believe this is such an important film, because of the pro-life message it embraces. To be clear, Pharma is not faith-based, and it doesn’t take on abortion head-on, like Unplanned. But in telling the story of Dr. Frances Kelsey, and revealing the atrocities of Thalidomide, Pharma is a voice for the thousands and thousands of infants who were victims of the drug. The film is giving a voice to those who have not been heard– both those who did not survive infancy, and those who never received restitution.
I am also eager to support Pharma because of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of maintaining access to untested mail-order abortion drugs. I really appreciate that Pharma sheds light on the historical relationship between the FDA and pharmaceutical companies, in light of these current events.
If you are interested in supporting Pharma, you can learn more at the movie website, pharmathemovie.com. You can also make a difference simply by sharing their social media posts and letting others know about the project. Most importantly, as you feel led, please pray for the film!