Documentary director Lina Lyte Plioplyte wants to make period stigma a thing of the past.
Her new film, “Periodical,” tells the unexpected story of the human body by exploring the marvel and mystery of the menstrual cycle, from women’s first periods to their last.
“I decided to do a documentary about menstruation because I realized it’s a significant biological phenomenon affecting half the global population, essential for human reproduction, yet it remains cloaked in shame,” Plioplyte told Know Your Value. “Nearly every major religion labels menstruation as dirty. Why are we not supposed to talk about it?”
The MSNBC Films documentary, which premiers on Sunday and is streaming on Peacock, features soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who reveals how the Women’s World Cup winning U.S. soccer team tracks their cycles, to scientists researching stem cells found in period blood, to young activists who are trying to get the so-called “tampon tax” banned across the country and celebrities including Gloria Steinem and Naomi Watts who share their own stories and advocate for their own rights.
“This film is intended for everyone who bleeds, and even more curiously, for those who don’t,” said Plioplyte.
Know Your Value chatted with Plioplyte about the film, why period stigma exists, the biggest myth surrounding menopause and more.
Below is the conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:
Know Your Value: Tell us the story about how and why you decided to do a documentary about menstruation?
Lina Lyte Plioplyte: …The widespread stigma [surrounding menstruation] has hindered our understanding of periods, and we finally have some new scientific tools and data to understand our cycle better.
I aimed to see what would unfold if we employed curiosity as a means to break down the barriers and learn something new about our bodies. And it was very important to hear diverse perspectives of having a menstrual cycle, from those who are not bleeding yet, to celebrities, to gender expansive people, to those who have mastered their menopause experience.
Know Your Value: What was the most surprising thing you learned about women, society and periods while doing this film?
Lina Lyte Plioplyte: One of the biggest surprises that I have learned in the film is that we are all cyclical beings — we are all affected by the moon and the hormonal tides in our bodies. For those with menstrual cycle, we can learn to surf this hormonal wave: to act in accordance with the body’s cycles, and even hack it, aligning with estrogen and progesterone rises, to be better people, better partners, better employees. So having a menstrual cycle can be a super-power, not a nuisance!
Know Your Value: In the documentary, you speak to several activists who are trying to get rid states’ “tampon tax.” More than 20 states still charge sales tax on period products. Are you optimistic this will be a thing of the past in coming years? What’s the biggest barrier in the way?
Lina Lyte Plioplyte: I am quite optimistic about the possibility of eliminating both the tampon tax and the overall stigma around menstruation. The main hurdle in removing these unnecessary taxes often stems from lawmakers, predominantly men, who lack understanding of menstrual realities and why menstrual products are essential. By increasing dialogue, normalizing discussions about menstruation, and actively involving men in closing this knowledge gap, we enhance the possibility of informed discussions regarding women’s bodies, bodily autonomy, and their needs.
In just a few years during the production of this film, we’ve witnessed a significant shift in how the menstrual cycle is discussed, including topics like free menstrual products, menstrual leave, and the experiences and treatments of menopause. Even Oprah is talking about menopause now! The more we converse, share information and stories, the more we drive change and normalize the experience of monthly bleeding. While conversation alone isn’t sufficient, I have great faith in organizations like Period Law and Period.org, who are not just raising awareness but also actively challenging unjust taxes and educating policymakers.
Know Your Value: What is the biggest myth surrounding women and menopause?
Lina Lyte Plioplyte: Numerous myths surround menopause, starting with the very term we use to describe it. The term ‘menopause’ is a misnomer; it’s not a mere ‘pause’. Furthermore, in medical settings, menopause is often categorized under ‘Urino-genital diseases’. However, this is misleading, as menopause is not a disease but a natural stage in the life of anyone who menstruates. Our documentary aims to re-envision menopause, viewing it as a powerful transition into a new life phase for women. This perspective encourages anticipation and celebration, rather than treating it as a taboo topic to be discussed in hushed tones.
Know Your Value: What do you hope viewers take away from this documentary?
Lina Lyte Plioplyte: I hope that viewers gain a fresh outlook on their bodies and menstruation. My goal is for this film to ignite curiosity, offer relief, and perhaps even unveil a sense of empowerment.
It’s about seeing the menstrual cycle not just as a biological fact but as a remarkable aspect of human life, worthy of appreciation and respect. This documentary aims to shift the narrative, challenging stigmas.