They're just not that into you.
“When journalists like you come to interview us, we know that we are being interviewed so we tell you everything. But, we don’t know what is the impact of these recordings, whether or not are they reaching the ministers so that they can take some steps regarding the issues. Now, you have come from America, you’ve recorded my statements, it is upon you to remember these stories, to remember what you recorded and for what, to think about how these recordings can help our situation. To think about it all once you’re back to where you came from.”
- Rupchandra, husband of Shrimati who died at a sterilization camp
Often when we go in to film a community we are on a tight time frame. It’s difficult because we don’t want to be transactional, we want to genuinely connect with those we are filming from a place of empathy. We want to share their stories with the world and we want them to see the importance of their stories. But with so little time it’s sometimes hard to connect without seeming like we just need something from them that we are going to take and then disappear, leaving nothing for them.
It takes a degree of trust that often we don’t have time to actually earn.
We have to think about what people’s motivations are for participating. For people like Rupchandra, who lost his wife at a sterilization camp, the reason for sharing this story is obvious. Something bad happened and maybe by telling us about it, the participant can get some degree of justice.
For others, I believe we are a novelty. When working in rural areas with women, discussing with them their choices of contraceptives and what influenced that decision, women don’t necessarily think they’ve suffered any injustice. And it’s not up to us to convince them that they have. But they’re willing to share with us a window into their lives, to discuss their decisions with us because we’re interesting, something out of the norm.
While filming in Madhya Pradesh we met a woman named Mitilesh, and after dispelling some rumors (we were getting paid obscene amounts of money to do this, we were going to steal land from the village, we were witches), we were able to really bond with the family. We spent time playing with the kids, dancing with the women, gossiping. Mitilesh still calls our translator every Sunday to check on how we are doing and give us an update. This bond led to a willingness to participate. This was something interesting, we were friends.
But this week we found a group that didn’t have any motivation to participate. We are trying to film a storyline in Delhi slums about IUDs that have been inserted directly after childbirth without women’s consent. It’s a growing phenomenon as sterilization wanes in popularity, and is another example of the “population control” mindset. We have now been to two slums and both times have failed to gain community buy-in in order to be able to film. Two thunder storms and an angry husband didn’t help but fundamentally the problem was they didn’t want to be part of the film.
Unlike the rural women, they were not entertained by our presence. They are busy. Western people come all the time and try to “help” them. They’re over it.
And unlike the survivors like Rupchandra, they didn’t see the importance of this issue. Yes, the doctors should have asked them before inserting an IUD. No, they didn’t want it. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small piece of copper inside of them that prevents them from having more kids. That’s nothing compared to the fear of their homes being demolished without warning -- something that has happened three times already -- or their kids not having clean water. In the context of their lives, having an IUD inserted without consent is not the most pressing issue.
We have been speaking to academics who describe this dilemma as one of reproductive rights vs. reproductive justice. If we came in and asked them only about their reproductive health, we would be taking a rights approach. But reproductive rights don’t make sense without a larger context of human rights. They are embedded in a context where they are facing a whole slew of injustices, focusing on one is pointless because it doesn’t take into account the full picture.
What we have tried to do throughout this process is to take a justice approach, to ask about generally their situation and then to focus in on the issue we are making the film about, reproductive health. We want to film people in their contexts, to understand their circumstances that lead to certain choices.
But even so, sometimes being so short on time we cannot fully take a reproductive justice approach. For this group in particular, we will need to invest more time just getting to know them and building trust. Building up an understanding of this context before we start to delve deeper into the specifics of their reproductive health situations.
By asking about their context first, the issue they’re facing that they themselves identify as more important, we can create a better motivation for them to participate in the project and we can share a clearer image of their lives with our audiences. We can show them this complexity, how reproductive injustice is just one injustice of many these women face. They face a system of inequality, not a single problem.