Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: It’s a Girl (20/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

It’s a Girl opens with a field dotted with small mounds. There are eight of them.

An Indian woman explains, “I just strangled it soon after it was born.”

The “it” she refers to is her own daughter. The woman killed each of her eight daughters after birth and buried each in that field.

Directed by Evan Grae Davis, It’s a Girl offers a harrowing look into the problem of gendercide in India and China, two societies that favor sons over daughters. Instead of welcoming girls into families, girls are aborted, killed, abandoned, abused, and neglected. They suffer sex trafficking, forced prostitution, and child marriage.

Cultural practices, harsh laws, and ineffective policy enforcement reinforce the problem of “daughter avoidance.” Even though Indian law disallows sex determination, people still bribe  doctors to perform the procedure. Poorer Indian women use multiple means to kill the child after birth, such as breaking the neck, suffocating, and poisoning.

The avoidance in India comes in part from dowry and familial roles. While the first son faces the obligation of caring for the family, a daughter becomes a double burden in taking the family’s resources and in requiring a dowry to marry. Daughters who fail to meet the expectations of their spouses, such as through bearing sons, face abuse and even murder. Those who attempt to keep their daughters face retaliation from spouses, extended family, and even medical professionals.

The “one child policy” reinforces the “son preference” in China. Under this policy, families with permission are allowed to have just one child. Most families prefer a son, and female children face the risk of being killed, aborted, or abandoned in order to try again for a male child.

The Family Planning Committee in China enforces these policies by encouraging people to spy and conducting raids on those disobeying the law. Women who have more than the allowed amount of children face forced abortions or sterilization. Some families attempt to work around these laws, but they face harsh punishments if caught.

Airy, abstract animations illustrate some of the more harrowing stories and statistics as the voiceover explains contexts and facts. While informative, these sequences sometimes get repetitive with the depth of interviews and the breadth of experts already appearing on camera.

The documentary offers a call for people to get involved with the movements to end gendercide. It adds the call to the end credits, mentioning organizations and the URL for more information. This approach works in that it takes no additional screen time and it redirects those interested to more information.

“Genocide,” a term coined by Raphael Lemkin, is harrowing enough. “Gendercide” is even more so because devalues half the population on this planet, and this documentary painstakingly shows just how that happens.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.