Latest News and Reviews of ALL ABOUT MY SISTERS by Wang Qiong
ALL ABOUT MY SISTERS, the debut feature documentary film by Wang Qiong, is officially eligible for Best Documentary consideration at the Oscars
Selected for the prestigious series of awards contenders, Curator's Choice program at Museum of Moving Image, ALL ABOUT MY SISTERS will screen in NYC on Sunday, January 2.
Boston Globe publishes a searing article about the policy and story behind ALL ABOUT MY SISTERS: What Happened in China When Government Edict Collided With Family Preferences: All About My Sisters looks back at personal cost of the one-child policy
In-depth interview with director Wang Qiong by curator/writer Abby Sun in Blackstar Project's SEEN, Issue 3, Fall 2021: Present Continuous
A Review of ALL ABOUT MY SISTERS by journalist & book author Karen Ma
Review for All about My Sisters
By Karen Ma
Chinese filmmaker Wang Qiong’s directorial debut All About My Sisters is not the first documentary to tackle China’s stringent One-Child Policy and its devastating impact. Wang Nanfu’s One-Child Nation was released two years earlier in 2019. Less formal and based on the personal experience of the director’s younger sister, however, All About My Sisters offers a much more nuanced and intimate look at this tragic page in Chinese history. At 175-minutes, the film feels a bit long, but the brutally honest examination of the policy’s lasting effects on one family is well worth the time.
The name One-Child Policy is slightly misleading because even at peak enforcement, families in most rural areas were permitted to have two children. Wang’s parents, Jianhua and Xiaoqing, from a Jiangxi village town called Shuibian, qualified for this privilege. In the mid-90s, they had already conceived two daughters, including the director; yet they were determined to try again for a son, bound by the region’s strong patriarchal values.
When they discovered their third child was another girl, and unable to hide the newborn Jin, they left her in a carton box hoping someone might adopt her. The penalty for illegal birth they faced was forced sterilization and confiscation of their properties. Days later, when no one came forward, Jianhua’s sister took Jin in, thus resolving the family crisis.
As a teenager, when the Wang family’s financial situations improved, Jin was taken back. This awkward arrangement became a nightmare for Jin. For starters, she never got over the fact that she was abandoned because her birth parents preferred a son. In her conversations with the director, Jin, now a mother herself, says she feels Jianhua and Xiaoqing (whom Jin refers to as “your mother and father”) prefer their other two daughters. Jin believes the Wangs see her as unworthy and ungrateful. Whenever she visits them, she finds herself sidelined and belittled. “Even a dog would be more grateful than you,” Xiaoqing tells Jin at one point. Jin wishes she’d been adopted by total strangers so she could escape this misery.
Jin, meanwhile, is the source of endless bickering between Jianhua and Xiaoqing. They are unhappy that Jin had failed in school and ended up a mother out of wedlock. They feel they have done more than enough to help Jin and her gambler husband financially without receiving any gratitude. Even Li, the oldest of the three sisters and a mother of three, is unsympathetic to Jin, calling her childish and selfish. With both sides unwilling to give in, Jin’s relationship with her biological family deteriorates.
Wang, who studied radio and TV journalism at Jinggangshan University, said at the New York Film Festival in October that she was driven to make the documentary by haunting childhood memories of corpses of new-born girls discarded in a village gutter. Her younger sister’s predicament triggered deep-seated questions about family, population control, abortion and gender equality, prompting her to start filming in 2014.
Wang is very involved in the film both behind and in front of the camera. She is unrelenting in her examination of her community’s obsessions for boys. Several times she pushes her mother and older sister Li on why they place so much value on having a boy. Li, eager to please her in-laws, says she’s also prepared to have an abortion should her third child be a girl. And when Wang asks, “Isn’t it a terrible thing to abort a baby because of her gender?” Li responds: “The world is pretty terrible to us women too.”
Speaking in a monotone about her unsuccessful late-term abortion of Jin, Xiaoqing initially seems cold. Later, when she recounts being shunned by her in-laws—disdainful that she failed to produce a son—and how she endured four more abortions before finally having a boy, we realized she is exhausted and beaten down by life. In a sense, Xiaoqing is as much a victim as Jin, traumatized not only by an unfair population policy, but the strict social code that sees women merely as vessels for bearing sons. The only difference is that Xiaoqing (and Li for that matter) does not have the wherewithal to question or challenge the system, effectively further enabling its deep bias.
Wang is equally intent on exposing why the One-Child Policy (abolished in 2015) was so savagely enforced in total disregard for the lives lost. To illustrate this, she focuses the camera on a maternal uncle who served as a population control official in their village. Her uncle says during the harshest 1990-2000 enforcement period, “we had very strict quotas to fulfill, including how many women to sterilize and fixed sums of fines to collect.” He arrested people at daybreak to catch them “off-guard.” Yet he also acknowledges having discarded two of his own newborns because of forced abortions. Holding back tears, he blames the township government for its cruelty but says it was a political reality he was powerless to resist.
Wang could have cut the film to sharpen its focus. The interviews with her little brother whom her parents went to so much trouble to conceive, for instance, do not add much to the film. That said, All About My Sisters is a searing and touching portrait of one family and what it says about a flawed national policy.
All About My Sisters further underscores how China’s patriarchal values and subjugation of women are still very much alive despite China’s great economic advancements. Although Wang’s parents don’t always come off in the best light, the director is careful to frame their actions within the confines of society and their times. This provides important insight into why many people were so complicit towards such a repressive policy for so long. Ultimately, she raises a point endemic to all societies: if we are not brave enough to challenge an egregiously unjust policy or system, are we not part of the problem?
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