Nellie Bly’s Mental Health Advocacy To Be Portrayed in Upcoming Film

Our topic today will connect modern mental health advocacy to the famous American composer, Stephen Foster.

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            I promise it will make sense soon, doo-dah, doo-dah…

Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born in 1864 in rural Pennsylvania, and grew up to become a female journalist for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Like most female writers of her time, Cochran published her work under a pseudonym — in her case, Nellie Bly, which taken from a popular Stephen Foster song of the era. Cochran (or “Bly”) focused on the lives of working women early in her career, and then went on to become a foreign correspondent. Perhaps the most memorable piece of Bly’s career, however, was an exposé she published on the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Her piece–Ten Days in a Mad-House–was completed after she went undercover as a patient in the asylum, and exposed the institution’s cruel and inhumane treatment of its residents.

This early work of mental health advocacy has inspired many to tell Bly’s story, the latest of which is the Lifetime Television Network, which has green-lighted a film about Bly to premiere in 2018.

Actress Christina Ricci will play Bly, with Judith Light co-starring as head nurse Matron Grady, who tortured Bly throughout her stay at the asylum.

The practice of institutionalizing women was common around the turn of the century, when conditions such as anxiety, stress, or postpartum depression would send women straight to the asylum. Women could also find themselves locked up for infidelity, diagnosed as “morally insane.”

The Lifetime film (working title: Nellie Bly) will bring the story of Bly’s important and timely investigative journalism to an entirely new generation of women, spreading mental health advocacy over a hundred years later. Stay tuned for more details of the film’s premiere date!

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