Film Review: “Rebel Hearts” Uses Archival Footage and Animation in Corita’s Style To Tell the Story of Hollywood’s Immaculate Heart Sisters

Sometimes change and progress requires shaking things up, which is exactly what the sisters of Immaculate Heart did in the 1960’s. In Rebel Hearts, a documentary film by Pedro Kos that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, their daring boldness is celebrated. Co-executive produced by Abigail Disney, the story uses archival footage and interviews along with animation to transport viewers to Hollywood in the 1960’s.

Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The film begins with an examination of why becoming a nun was an attractive alternative to domestic responsibilities for women in the mid-century. It examines the methods by which women became a nun, the vows they took to become one, and the rise in Catholic Schools and how unprepared and untrained they were. That’s all essentially a lengthy prologue to the core of the story.

With the foundation of the Immaculate Heart school for women, these sisters began weekend college courses and ended up more educated than the priests in the L.A. archdiocese. Connecting with their students, this order of nuns shook things up with their progressive views, taking active roles in civil rights movements and speaking up against the injustices they witnessed. It inspired the community, but became the ire of patriarchal leadership of the church.

A few villains emerge in the story, primarily Cardinal McIntyre who oversaw the Los Angeles church and was appointed by the Vatican. The sisters’ movement ironically started in the wake of the Vatican II, a more progressive movement by the Roman Catholic Church that was rescinded, possibly as a direct result of the Immaculate Heart community pushing the boundaries of what they were comfortable with.

Among the key players is Corita Kent, a sister who became the art teacher at Immaculate Heart and ended up becoming a pop artist in the process. Animation occasionally helps bring narrated moments to life, all of it done in her signature serigraphy style. These moments also bring to life moments that don’t have video or photographic visual aids to support the narrative.

Rebel Hearts shows members of this Immaculate Heart community continuing to be active parts in shaping the community across the decades. From joining the Selma to Montgomery march to as recently as the 2018 Women’s March in L.A., this community of ex-nuns and the following they’ve gained over the decades continues its progressive stance on making the world a better place to live for all God’s children.

The film has a few pacing challenges, at times slowing down too much to be entertaining, but it overall strikes a very inspiring tone. There’s a passing-the-torch theme to be found in Rebel Hearts and hopefully the film expands the initiative that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

I give Rebel Hearts 4 out of 5 stars.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).