Judy Blume changed the way growing up stories were told.
Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald, Samantha Bee and more celebrate the bestselling young author in the new documentary “Judy Blume Forever,” which premieres Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival and begins streaming April 21 on Amazon Prime. Bloom, 84, whose novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” in theaters April 28, reflects decades of writing stories she felt kids wanted to read — and have a right to know more about.
“I allowed young women to be as complex and messy and dark and light and funny as we are,” Dunham says in the documentary.
This is what we learned from the movie “Judy Blume Forever.”
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Bloom’s Young Adult novels, most of which were published between the 1970s and 1990s, dealt with topics that adults would not discuss with children—particularly girls. She wrote about puberty, masturbation, swearing, and grappling with existential ideas.
It arose from Bloom’s own experiences as a child, during which she recalled feeling anxious about the world around her and resenting adults keeping secrets from her.
“Are You There, My God? It’s Me, Margaret”, published in 1970, catapulted Bloom into the spotlight. She knew it would be “terribly controversial” among adults, but that little girls would love it.
“I remember being that age,” Bloom says in the documentary. “I was fascinated by the idea of changing bodies and growing breasts, for me to get my period. I was obsessed with it. I wanted to write the truth, the fact of being that age.”
Subsequent novels have also sparked countless fan letters from young readers, grateful to have found an adult willing to be honest with them. One reader, who appears in the documentary as an adult, frequently wrote to Bloom about trying to deal with her brother’s suicide after he sexually abused her for years. She says Bloom’s responses saved her life.
However, the parents disapproved of Bloom’s work.
Bloom says of her 1993 novel, Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, which features a scene in which a teenage boy drops an f-bomb.
“Maybe your child is out on the playground screaming (the f-word) all over the place,” she says. “Because it’s just a word. If you look it up in the dictionary, which I did, you’ll find ‘condensed word without meaning.’ But it’s true. And Charles meant it. And so there it is.”
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Bloom’s entire career has centered around the idea that children have a right to answers to their questions. So when the Reagan administration brought book bans to the fore of the national conversation, she became a vocal advocate for the content of her books and others facing book bans.
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“I’ve been accused of all kinds of evil deeds. And once, because I’m a Planned Parenthood supporter, I got something like 700 death threats in one day. We took that very seriously,” Bloom says, recalling that she worried if “an angry parent” He would “come and shoot” her.
“It never stopped me…but I knew you can’t debate bigots,” Bloom adds. “There was really no point in it, except for me to get sick.”
This issue is timely again — lawmakers across the country have been pulling books about race, sex, and gender identity from classrooms and libraries. Bloom calls the resurgence of book bans “shocking”.
“It’s like time has stopped and we’re back in the 80s,” she says.
Lena Dunham and Molly Ringwald on how Judy Blume changed culture
“Everything I learned about sex, or thinking about sex, or crushing, I learned from Judy Blume,” says Ringwald, an adulthood icon in her own right.
She’s joined by late-night host Samantha Bee, “PEN15” creator and star Anna Kunkel, young adult author Jacqueline Woodson and “Girls” creator and star Dunham in highlighting the shame that media and pop culture have historically attached to young women’s bodies — and how it has shaped Bloom’s work is the foundation for their careers.
Judy’s books speak of the unspeakable. That’s why her books were so complicated for people,” says Dunham.
Bloom now resides with her husband in Key West, Florida, where she runs a bookstore and frequently meets readers of all ages touched by her storytelling.
“I say that a lot—to remind myself: You’re old,” Bloom says. “Who knows how much time you have? But I don’t feel like I’m getting old. I still occasionally ask lettering, Are you twelve? Are you a kid? A part of me is.”
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