“There wasn’t one day of my life that the one child policy didn’t exist,” recalls Nanfu Wang, the co-director of “One Child Nation,” a documentary about China’s infamous one child policy. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2019 and earned the Grand Jury Prize. It has gone on to receive five Critics’ Choice Documentary Award nominations, including a nod for Best Documentary and three individual nominations for Wang: Best Director (shared with Jialing Zhang), Best Editing and Best Narration. In our exclusive interview (watch the video above), Wang explains how China was able to execute this controversial policy through what she calls “a combination of propaganda and violence.”
Wang was born in China only a short time after the one child policy was implemented in 1979. As a young girl, she remembers how the intense propaganda campaign promoted the policy through everything from classrooms to media. The result, Wang says, was that a large number of people embraced the policy despite the horrific enforcement measures, which included forced abortions and forced sterilizations. Wang interviewed several Chinese citizens who still believe, to this day, that the one child policy was a good idea. “I realized that it was really a result of long-term indoctrination to make people believe that this is the only way that they were going to survive, “she explains, “or that the country was going to survive.”
Among those who believed in the policy was Wang’s own mother. Their conversations about the policy are a central point in the film and have continued since the film’s completion and release. Even after Wang became a mother herself, she says that her own mother still believes that the policy was necessary. “She used the narrative that this was the only way that China would survive,” Wang explains. “I do believe that somehow I’ve made her think– even though she wouldn’t agree with me– but I think she now looks at things definitely with more questions.”
Although the film is banned in Wang’s native China, she hopes that it will eventually be seen by as many Chinese people as possible. “I do see myself coming to the United States and starting to make films as my own political awakening,” she declares. Wang’s primary wish is that the film starts a dialogue that can breakthrough China’s heavily censored society. “I hope that films like mine would eventually reach [the Chinese people] and help them see their own reality a little better.”
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