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2020 Hindsight

Sundance Institute

In the Same Breath (2021)

Wang Nanfu’s “In the Same Breath” succeeds only as a bracing critique of Chinese censorship, because it spectacularly fails as a documentary on its purported subject, Covid-19. The film puts so much emphasis on the Chinese government’s initial denial and subsequent iron-fisted management of the pandemic, that its juxtapositions with the West’s misinformation and lack of response and containment feel like a disingenuous afterthought.

As Covid-19 broke out, Ms. Wang attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, while her child remained in the care of family in China. In a flash, concern over the child’s well-being escalated to fodder for a new film. The quick-thinking filmmaker promptly went about collecting social media posts on the outbreak before they vanished along with their authors one by one. She also remotely lined up cameramen in China to scout hospitals for footage. Fearing the consequences, most interviewees watched their words carefully. Meanwhile, Chinese state media downplayed the magnitude of the pandemic. In one memorable sequence, several news anchors shown in a “Brady Bunch”-style split screen recite from the exact same script in unison.

The film attributes the Chinese government’s censorship and propaganda to a deep-seated desire to save face, but it never acknowledges that China’s concerns are not totally unwarranted nor mere paranoia. Not only does the film gloss over centuries of “yellow peril” narratives prevalent in the West, Ms. Wang doesn’t even think it’s worthwhile including former president Donald Trump dubbing Covid-19 “the China virus,” ushering in a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes.

Along with “One Child Nation,” Ms. Wang has established her niche as a “pick me Asian” documentarian – meaning, she is expert at telling Westerners what they want to hear about China. Let’s just draw attention away from the nearly half million Covid deaths in the United States due to a narcissistic president and negligent governance because Communism Is Bad.


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