I’ll admit I haven’t really sought out the details on this, because it seems difficult to do, but at very least it feels like there was a stretch in the ’80s where it was more possible to have a movie featuring a pregnant teenager that wasn’t about teen pregnancy. Maybe this was something lost in the Reagan Backlash, and maybe it’s because there are fewer ensemble cast teen movies now than there were in those days, but there we are.
Of course there are plenty of movies that are About Teen Pregnancy. Juno was a huge critical success, as was Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. A new one seems to come out every few years, making a Big Statement. But, as I’ve already discussed, hardly anyone in movies just happens to be pregnant anyway, and it’s more noticeable when we’re talking about teenagers. Heck, one of the (many) things that bothered me about Juno was that everyone seemed to be shocked by the very existence of a pregnant teenager, as though they’d never seen such a thing before.
I don’t know; maybe this is in part because teen pregnancy rates are going down, which is—don’t get me wrong, here—a good thing. Maybe pregnant teenagers’ just being less common has something to do with it. But it feels as though we just aren’t talking about these girls’ reproductive choices. As if it’s one more avenue where we’re afraid they’ll realize they have them.
There are four movies that are really coming to mind for me, though I’ll admit that the pregnant teenager never appears onscreen in one of them. Also that it’s from considerably later than the others and therefore may disprove my point as much as anything, though I do think that the girl never appears and is just mentioned may be relevant here.
Earliest is Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has an ill-advised sexual encounter that ends in pregnancy, and she makes the choice to have an abortion. Her brother, Brad (Judge Reinhold), finds out about it and is clearly more upset that she got pregnant at all than that she had an abortion. We are not shown any long-lasting grief or similar, just regret that things are the way they are and that the guy she had sex with is such a sleaze.
Somewhat later is Summer School. A class of misfits who have to pass a test in order to graduate from high school, and possibly even stay in school at all, all have varying reasons for their academic failings. One is very heavily pregnant, which is explicitly said to have distracted her from her school work in general. She was never outstanding, but she went from C’s to F’s. Rhonda (Shawnee Smith) makes the choice to give the child up for adoption. She never discusses the father at all, but it’s clear that he’s not in the picture. She isn’t scarred for life; even during pregnancy, she’s thinking about what life will be like for her afterward. What we know for sure is “different.”
Cheryl Biggs (Holly Sampson) of Pump Up the Volume has basically no backstory. We know she’s been kicked out of school for her pregnancy, out of fear that she’ll set a bad example for the other kids. She “has no remorse” about her “unfortunate condition.” We don’t know what her choices are. We don’t know about her relationship with the father. We know almost nothing about her except that the school is forced to take her back.
In 10 Things I Hate About You, by far the latest of the four, no characters are actually pregnant. However, Walter Stratford (Larry Miller) is an ob-gyn who’s terrified that his two teenage daughters will end up pregnant. It may also be the only film of the four where birth control is explicitly advocated, as Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) suggests that the boyfriend of the girl her father is using as an example of what to avoid should have used a condom. Her father, through his paranoia, still doesn’t dispute the point or even suggest that condoms aren’t a good option. He must know they’re not foolproof, but he still agrees that they’re a choice that should be made.
But 10 Things I Hate About You is the last example I can think of, the latest. The teens in modern movies still have sex, but they have sex without getting pregnant. Maybe they’re taking Bianca’s advice, but from what I know, they don’t much talk about that, either.