The "Judy Blume Forever" Directors Never Expected Book Bans Would Make Their Doc So Timely

"Judy Blume Forever" directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok didn't predict the current moment in American culture when they started the documentary. Pardo grew up a lifelong Judy Blume fan, she tells POPSUGAR; she describes herself as a "shy quiet kid" and "early bloomer" who found herself reflected in the pages of Blume's books, especially "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." Wolchok, however, didn't become a fan until the pair started working on the doc together. She grew up in Jacksonville, FL, and spent more time outside playing than inside reading.

"Girls bodies were seen as something to be ashamed of," she says of her life growing up. "And women's bodily autonomy was something to be feared, and I internalized all of those pressures from my quaint southern society that I lived in, and I did not read Judy's juicy books."

Pardo and Wolchok met in film school; they both got their master's in documentary film from Stanford. They worked together on the 2015 documentary "Very Semi-Serious," about The New Yorker cartoonists. Years later, Pardo was developing the Blume documentary, and when Blume herself finally agreed to be in it, she asked Wolchok to come on board.

When Wolchok was deciding if she would, she watched the first episode of Blume's Masterclass, and she was immediately hooked. "It's like, 'Oh, this woman's story needs to be told in a bigger way, and I would be so honored to be a part of that. She was so warm and open and honest and funny and insightful," Wolchok remembers.

The documentary not only chronicles Blume's life from her beginnings in Elizabeth, NJ, to when her writing career finally blew up, but it also addresses the backlash that Blume's books faced in the 1980s. Though her books were widely popular and connected with young adult readers because of how truthfully she wrote about their lives, they were targeted by conservative book bans. Conservative groups didn't want their kids to read honestly about puberty, sex, death, and other issues that affected their lives. Seeing Blume's past play out on screen in "Judy Blume Forever" feels particular powerful given the current rise of book bans in America, especially targeting books about the experiences of LGBTQ+, Black people, and other marginalized groups.

"We thought that book banning was more of a relic of the culture wars of the '80s," Wolchok says of the pair's attitude when they first started working on the documentary. "We didn't anticipate the explosion of book banning and how it was going to take over public discourse because of the audacity of politicians, lawmakers, and many states, including my home state of Florida, and, you know, the state where Judy lives in Key West," Wolchok says. But they had always planned for many of the documentary's talking heads to be writers whose books have come under scrutiny. "Those authors were generally people of color, writing characters who were people of color, and authors who are queer or trans writing characters who are queer or trans," she says.

Judy Blume in Key West

Pardo describes the maelstrom, which includes conservative groups parents attacking schools and libraries, plus a legislative push, as "incredibly frightening." At the same time, Wolchok thinks it's unfair that her native Florida has become a "punching bag" because of these hot button issues.

"I love the people that I know who still live and work in Jacksonville, and I have nothing but the deepest respect for all of the people I know who are fighting against these challenges in other communities throughout the state of Florida," she says. "The problem lies within the leadership of the state." And Pardo points out that book bans are not just limited to Florida or even states considered conservative. Wolchok says she's seen parents organize even in New Jersey, where she lives now, to try to get all the books "about queer characters" taken off the shelves.

"The entire community and all the neighboring communities fought back, and the books were not taken off the shelves in the public library," she remembers. "But that was that was in New Jersey. It's happening everywhere."

"Judy Blume Forever" then is not just a tribute to one brilliant woman who touched so many lives, but also a call to action to stand up for books everywhere — and the kids who need to read them. Some of the documentary's most moving parts feature letters that Blume received from young readers who saw their lives and struggles reflected in her books for the very first time. Blume often wrote back, and she formed lifelong connections with some of those kids and teens, now adults.

The letters, Pardo says, are of course "adorable and cute and sweet." "But it was also touching and poignant and sad. You could see kids really struggling. And the fact that Judy was the person, they turned to said so much to us about what her books meant to people and how she made people feel."

"Judy Blume Forever" is streaming now on Prime Video.