It’s a Girl, a documentary about the tragic practice of sex-selection abortions in India and China, is being widely screened by pro-choice groups across America, including the New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization for Women and feminist groups on university campuses. It was an official selection for the Amnesty International Film Festival in 2012 and appeared in Ms. magazine’s feminist movies review. But as organizations and groups evaluate whether to screen this movie, they should be aware that the film’s director worked for Harvest Media Ministry, an organization that makes pro-life and other videos for church groups.
How did this happen? How did a movie linked to a pro-life group become the darling of the pro-choice community? The story involves clever disguises on the part of financing sources that managed to hide their involvement and pass off a movie about the horrors of sex-selection abortions as just a sympathetic movie about the plight of women in India and China. And the pro-life message is subtle enough that they got away with it.
Shot on location in India and China, the film starts with a poor rural woman from India smiling while she tells the audience that she killed eight of her female babies. The film describes a culture of violence against girls and women in India from being killed in wombs, to killed as infants, to starved and trafficked as young girls, to being beaten as wives. That part is true. Still, when I watched the film, I was reminded of the seminal article by now-dean of SUNY Buffalo Law School, Makau W. Mutua, in which he coined the grand metaphor of human rights discourse as one where the actors are “savages, victims, or saviors.” In this case, Indians are savages, the women are victims, and the Americans are the saviors.
The closest the movie comes to endorsing a broad anti-abortion message is at the end, when Indian writer Rita Banerji states that “all life is sacred.” The final scene is a lengthy heart-wrenching depiction of a woman playing with her two daughters who she refused to abort despite her in-laws’ insistence. But the message is subtle enough that a recent review appearing in the Atlantic claims that the movie “doesn't buttress either pro-life or pro-choice—or, at least, doesn't buttress one at the expense of another.”
I was recently asked by a human rights student group to lead a discussion of the film, but after a little research I became suspicious. The film was not cheap to make yet acknowledges no funding sources. It is also made by a director who does not specifically mention any prior experience or background in India or China and whose official biography does not mention any prior works. I finally searched the owners of the domain name associated with the film’s official production company. The domain name of Shadowline Films is registered to Evan Davis of Tucson, Ariz., (the same name as the filmmaker except without the middle name).
Only after searching for “Evan Davis Tucson Arizona” was I able to discover that Davis is also the media director of Harvest Media Ministry, and the domain name of that company is also registered to Evan Davis of Tucson. The website of Harvest Media Ministry states that its mission is to provide “well produced, strategic communication tools and support services that serve and encourage ministries, Mission organizations and the Church.” Further, Harvest Media claims its purpose is to “keep God and what He is accomplishing around the world as the central message of each media tool [they] develop.” Among its portfolio of works, the website features a video describing "unborn children" as “46 million people who will be killed this year.”