Friday, May 3, 2019

Nate Hood ponders LEFTOVER WOMEN (2019) Tribeca 2019

Though three women are spotlighted in Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia’s Leftover Women—a documentary exploring the lives of the growing number of Chinese women ostracized for not getting married and having children before the age of 27—one stands head and shoulders above the rest as a microcosm of all the cultural pressures these women face: Qiu HuaMei, a 34-year old lawyer in Beijing who’s put off marriage until her mid-thirties both to pursue her career and because she can’t find a partner who will treat her as an equal. Through the film, we see her insulted by dating counselors, shamed by her parents, driven to tears by her sister, pushed, mocked, debased, and humiliated, all for wanting to marry on her terms in her own time. (The less said about her family’s reaction to her wanting to remain childless, the better.) One scene particularly cuts to the quick: during a blind date, a promising potential suitor slowly reveals himself as the kind of chauvinist she’s been desperate to avoid, Shlam and Medalia’s camera holding her in medium profile as all the hope slowly drains from her face while her date babbles on and on about feminine submission.

It’s a startling look into the uphill battle she, and millions of other Chinese women, continue to fight as their country struggles with the gender gap created by the one-child policy where sex-selective abortion and mandatory sterilization contributed to an imbalance of 30 million more men than women. The government, correctly seeing this as a threat to social stability, have redoubled efforts to force what women remain into early marriages. We see this in Xu Min, a 28-year old living with her parents who attends an “Annual Government Blind Date” alongside dozens of nervous, awkward twenty-and-thirtysomethings—it goes about as well as one could imagine government-mandated dating might. And even if these “leftovers” find suitable partners, they still face parental pushback if their matches don’t meet their absurd standards, something the middle-aged Gai Qi learns when her mom rejects her younger boyfriend because he isn’t from Beijing.

The chilling thing is that Leftover Women doesn’t necessarily represent a problem, but the dawning of one, a demographic cataclysm that sees no signs of going away. Unless change happens soon, things will only get worse for all the HuaMei’s, Min’s, and Qi’s in China.

Rating: 8/10

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