Friday, May 20, 2022

HRWFF ’22: Midwives

It isn't just the genocide of Muslim Uyghurs that Iran and other Mid East regimes deliberately overlook to cozy up to Xi’s China. They also ignore the genocidal crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military junta, whom the CCP has embraced. Life is nearly impossible for the Rohingya in their own country, even for Nyo Nyo. She has an apprenticeship with the Buddhist Hla, but their relationship is often quite strained, as Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing documents in Midwives, which screens as part of the 2022 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Rakhine state in Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) is a powder keg. Racist mobs (sadly including some Buddhist monks) regularly march through the district condemning Muslims and those who protect them. Arguably, Hla and her husband are running a grave risk by employing Nyo Nyo, but they to can be cruel and dismissive towards her. Yet, she plays an essential role translating for Rohingya women, who can only seek treatment at Hla’s clinic, due to ethnic-based travel restrictions.

Listening to the virulence of the propaganda spewing on television broadcasts and during street demonstrations is bracingly eye-opening. If this were regularly reported on American nightly news broadcasts, Myanmar would be sanctioned back to the stone age. It also should lead viewers to reserve judgement on Hla, even though her behavior is sometimes troubling. On the other hand, it is easy to respect Nyo Nyo, who becomes increasingly enterprising as the film progresses. In defiance of Muslim teachings regarding interest-charging, she starts a neighborhood saving-and-loan coop to empower her fellow Rohingya women. Capitalism and freedom always go and grow together.

Mostly Hnin Ei Hlaing maintains a micro focus on the two midwives, but macro events regularly intrude on their lives. The film starts before the military coup, when things were already bad, but continues afterward, with everyone fearing for the worst. Yet, the doc makes great efforts to find cause for optimism, no matter how modest.

There is a lot of valuable reporting in
Midwives and it definitely personalizes the plight of the Rohingya. However, a wider focus might have driven home the point more forcefully. Instead, much of two women’s drama and resentments are just uncomfortable (and sometimes a bit dull) to watch.

The truth is, if anyone has leverage to stop the oppression of the Rohingya quickly, it would be the CCP. Yet, they are fine with it. Indeed, the rhetoric unleashed against the Rohingya sounds eerily similar to that which the CCP wields against the Uyghurs and Putin’s state media employs with respect to Ukraine. It doesn’t just demonize their subjects. It denies the very existence of their ethnicity as a people. Not perfectly executed but still very much worth seeing,
Midwives screens tomorrow (5/21) at Film at Lincoln Center and Monday (5/23) at the IFC Center, as part of the HRW Film Fest (which has misleadingly grouped it under the “reproductive rights” theme, but it really should be labelled “genocide”).