Friday, January 3, 2020

Movie with Abe: One Child Nation

One Child Nation
Directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang
Released August 9, 2019

Every country has different laws regarding reproductive rights, and it’s far more common that they limit options rather than grant them. While abortion isn’t uniformly permitted throughout the United States and in other countries, an entirely opposite protocol existed over a number of years in China. The one-child policy aimed to combat a future of problematic overpopulation by ensuring that each family produced just one child. While the effort may have been theoretically humanitarian in nature, the methods of enforcement and effects of relegating families to a single offspring proved deeply damaging to so many throughout the country, in ways that are still being felt.

Nanfu Wang has recently become a mother, prompting her to explore her own family origins. As a second child born to parents in a small village where the one-child decree wasn’t as strict, Nanfu wants to investigate the impact of this national policy. She interviews her own family members and others who played an active role in carrying out the policy to learn about how some were forcibly sterilized and how others abandoned girls in the public market so that they could try again to have a boy instead. She is most curious to learn how they feel now, and is startled to discover how many of them, even those affected negatively by it, still believe that it was necessary and right.

This is a deeply personal film for Wang, who, with co-director Zhang Lynn, chips away at a concept that was widely accepted by so many to understand what took place to let that happen and what was lost as a result. Having a child allows Wang to think in a way she hadn’t before, which makes the questions that she asks her own mother and others all the more insightful, wondering how they could allow themselves to be sterilized or to willingly assist in the violent oppression of those who felt they couldn’t fight back against something that seemed wrong.

Because Wang now lives in the United States, this film, which is presented in English whenever she isn’t speaking to residents of China, is especially poignant due to the way in which the religious right seeks to limit a woman’s control of her body in a way that feels just as manipulative and horrible as when China imposed the reverse. This documentary, which made the fifteen-wide shortlist of films competing for the Best Documentary Oscar, evokes other recent films like “The Act of Killing” that find interview subjects very willing to discuss what many would perceive as willful perpetration of crimes. It’s undeniably disturbing, yet so revealing and important, exposing how an entire nation was impacted in a way that can never really be undone.


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