Distributed by Matson Films, 453 S. Spring St. Ste. 412, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Produced by Participant Media
Directed by Jessica Yu
DVD, color, 93 min.
Marital Status, Public Health, Reproductive Rights, Social Problems
Reviewed by Alyson Gamble, Science Librarian, Jane Bancroft Cook Library, New College of Florida and USF Sarasota-Manatee
Date Entered: 5/16/2017
In this three-story documentary, the widely accepted statement that human overpopulation is inevitable is evaluated and debunked by director Jessica Yu. Yu’s documentary centers on the teachings about core aspects of global development by Hans Rosling, a self-described “edutainer” and Swedish physician, academic, and statistician who died in February 2017. According to Rosling, the population boom has already occurred. For example, the number of children born per woman has declined from five to two and a half and eighty percent of the world’s population is made up of families with two children. Yet, as Yu shows by surveying a selection of people from around the world, most people believe that the human population is continuing to grow at an untenable rate.
To question this premise, Yu uses footage from Rosling’s presentations, as well as a vignette comparing the population incentivization programs offered by different countries: one with high fertility rates (India) and low fertility rates (Russia). One Indian program offers women a car in exchange for being sterilized. Meanwhile, a Russian initiative awards new parents with honors and a chance to win a car for reproducing. Yu then transitions from the introduction into three stories: one of a single man in China, one of a Canadian anti-abortion activist, and one of a children’s welfare reporter in Uganda. Of these three vignettes, the Ugandan journalist’s tale stands out as being heart-wrenching, yet hopeful. Yu’s intention appears to be using each story to answer issues highlighted by the previous one.
“When it comes to population control issues, no one matches the Chinese,” narrates Kyra Sedgwick. In this first story, a twenty-nine-year-old Chinese man feels pressured by his community to marry, but, in part due to the country’s one-child policy from 1979 to its formal phase out in 2015, finds himself living in a deficit of thirty million women. Chinese tradition dictates men marry in their twenties, but according to Wu, many Chinese men of the subject’s generation have difficulty meeting women in an environment where the genders are imbalanced. In addition, the country’s change from arranged marriages to self-chosen partnerships has changed the marriage dynamic. As one family member tells the young man, “Our generation accepted compatibility, but your generation wants love.” Meanwhile, the subject and his peers, including women, are focused on their careers. According to Rosling, the one-child problem is not the only problem with this situation. Gender equity means Chinese women are choosing to have less children and to avoid marriage in order to pursue their other dreams.
Yu transitions from China to Morniville, Alberta, Canada, where an anti-abortion activist uses the example of China’s former single-child policy as an example of the evils of reproductive choice. An evangelical Christian who actively proselytizes, including at a nail salon, the activist is joined by two colleagues at the United Nations, where they attempt to add a voice to the international conversation about reproductive rights. Meetings include a conversation with the ambassador from Bangladesh, where abortion is illegal. Yet as the film points out via Hans Rosling, talking about reproductive rights as solely about abortion minimizes a serious issue. As Rosling says, “You need choices.”
The final story in Misconception shows why. In Kampala, Uganda, unsafe abortion is a significant public health problem. One interviewee estimates that twenty percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions. Many Ugandan women lack knowledge about basic human sexuality, including how humans are conceived. Additionally, they lack access to reproductive care; according to the film, only one in four Ugandan women are able to access family planning. “Many women don’t have the power where family planning is concerned,” states the third story’s subject, who works for New Vision Paper, including writing a column highlighting lost and abandoned children. Women are required to have husband’s permission for reproductive care. This lack of autonomy, combined with Illiteracy and ignorance, coupled with rape and sexual abuse, leads to many women having children they can not afford and are forced to abandon. It is estimated the African population will triple by 2100.
This statistic points to the reality revealed by Yu and Rosling: the issue of human population is one between countries where women have access to reproductive healthcare and ones where they do not. Rosling asserts families need to be able to plan for their children, and young families need to be adequately supported by their communities and governments. Additionally, the uneven distribution of world resources, including excess consumption by wealthier populations, causes issues around the world. According to Rosling, environmental issues will be solved with issues at home; to put it simply, wealthier countries need to stop pursuing conspicuous consumption in order to minimize their use of fossil fuels.
In this combination of personal stories, interesting factoids, and engaging statistics, Misconception takes a new spin on the human overpopulation question. While the film is occasionally disjointed, uncomfortable, and unbalanced, its questioning of a widely-held belief is generally effective, visually appealing, and thought provoking. Therefore, it is recommended to a general educational audience, especially those viewers concerned with human reproduction.