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One Child Nation

The harrowing, vital documentary about China’s one child policy and its global implications is currently in theaters.

Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Metacritic score: 85

Director Nanfu Wang grew up in rural China under the country’s “One Child” policy, which lasted from 1979 to 2015. Her own parents had two children, since the law made an exception for families in rural areas, as long as the children were at least five years apart — but not until after her mother narrowly escaped involuntary sterilization. Many other women were not so lucky, being forced into sterilization and abortion against their will. The policy’s mental, physical, and emotional toll on the country, especially its women, was tremendous.

Through a documentary that is part personal, part journalistic, Wang explores the ramifications of the One Child era. She speaks with a midwife in China who had to perform abortions on thousands of women; an artist who depicts the grisly results of the policy; and a couple in the US who help adopted Chinese children try to reunite with their biological families, many of whom sold children to orphanages for adoption abroad because they already had a child. It is a harrowing film that confronts and confounds Western ideas about agency, choice, reproduction, and bodily autonomy.

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