‘Misconception’ Engagingly Examines the Issue of Population Growth

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Over the past 50 years, the world’s population has been growing at alarming rate. Are we to assume that these numbers will continue to climb at the same rate and institute a variety of measures to curb population growth before humans occupy every square inch of the globe? That’s the question at the heart of Misconception, an intriguing documentary from director Jessica Yu that examines the topic of overpopulation through three distinct stories of individuals in different parts of the world. Despite the fact that Misconception takes its cues from the statistician Hans Rosling, the film takes much more of an interest in the human stories behind the common belief of overpopulation.

After a bit of narration explaining the population growth of the last half century, we’re given a bit of Rosling’s statistical breakdown of how the population will not rapidly increase as it has over recent history. Rosling points to the averages of children in developed nations – where families are averaging two children per family – as evidence that the rapid growth will diminish over time. However, undeveloped countries are the ones where families are having in excess of five children, which leaves the statistics somewhat out of balance.

Following this introduction, Misconception takes us to China, home of the oppressive one child state policy (which was only abolished this year). Attempting to combat overpopulation, the state implemented this terrible policy with little thought for its unintended consequences. The greatest consequence of this misguided program of social engineering is the fact that Chinese culture prizes male children over female which has led to an imbalance with 30 million more men than women. From there, the film follows Bao Jianxin, a young single man on the cusp of turning 30. He faces great pressure from his parents and society as a whole to be married by the time he reaches 30, though it doesn’t seem to be an attainable goal. In trying to curb a swelling population, the Chinese government has created another crisis, one that has created more problems than it has solved.

Back in North America, Misconception then follows Denise Mountenay, a Christian activist living in Canada. Her life’s work has been about fighting abortion and lobbying the UN to have China abolish its one child policy. Though her intentions are good, Denise is pretty much the worst kind of religious person – unintentionally condescending as she conflates all issues of reproductive health with abortion. Repeatedly the film shows her proselytizing to strangers in the service industry, whether it’s her cab driver or the Chinese lady doing her nails. Denise attends UN conferences on population with the simple goal of making sure that programs designed for family planning (in her eyes all equivalent to abortion) are defunded. It’s a personal quest for her, as she used to have problems with drugs and alcohol which led to abortions to rid her of unwanted pregnancies. She found freedom from her personal demons through religion which she wants to channel in the fight against abortion. As we’ve seen in China already, these means don’t always have the intended consequences.

For the final segment, Misconception takes us to Uganda. The state is in a precarious situation as the nation lacks in family planning services, leading to spate of abandoned children throughout the country. Gladys Kalibbala, a journalist, dedicates her work to helping these abandoned children find homes through her platform at the newspaper. The reality of the situation in Uganda is that there’s practically no women’s health infrastructure, and young girls who can’t afford to have another child often abandon their children due to their inability to care for them. It’s a heartbreaking portrait that refutes everything that Denise Mountenay is working for in the previous segment, and proving that these issues aren’t simply black and white.

The real power and virtue of Misconception comes from the fact that Jessica Yu employs statistics as a way to lay the groundwork, but quickly ditches making this film a data driven examination of a world issue. Instead Yu and company opt for the human element of the issue, and avoid making an overly preachy documentary. Simply, it lays out the facts through a trilogy of human stories and implores you to think about situation, something that you won’t find within most activist documentaries.

Except Misconception isn’t an activist documentary, it’s an honest to goodness exploration of a subject presented with a bit of cinematic flair. I doubt that Jessica Yu’s film will change the minds of people like Denise Mountenay, but it doesn’t have to. What if the answer to the conundrum of overpopulation was simply a matter of accessibility to family planning? Perhaps that’s the great work of Misconception – it concludes that the greatest misconception might be that complex problems always demand complex solutions.

  • Overall Score


Tackling the issue of population growth, Misconception is an engaging exploration as to the nature of the problem and potential solutions.

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