How To Have An American Baby


Reviewed by: Sergiu Inizian

How To Have An American Baby
"Beyond exploring the intricacies of a disturbing illicit business, the documentarist takes a deep interest in the women who take enormous risks for a shot at a better family future."

In her feature debut, director Leslie Tai takes an in-depth look at the business of birth tourism in the United States. Her blunt camera work reveals the hopes and struggles of Chinese women who strive to offer their babies a better future by giving birth overseas. This compassionate story of sacrifice digs deeper into an underground industry that fabricates dreams and endangers the lives of expectant women and their infants.

Several women housed in a California community converse about their experience as birth tourists. They expect their babies to receive citizenship once born and start their journey towards a better life. A shadow industry is built around them, to cater to their specific needs. Their transportation, housing and health care are taken care of for a hefty price. Soon, the mothers find out that this experience takes more than just a monetary toll on them.

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On the surface, the decision to give birth in the US is questionable, as most of these women have an affluent status back in their home country. But, the inherent desire to offer their children the best future is persistent and ultimately understandable. Capitalising on their anxieties about past and future hardships, providers of concealed US births sell the ultimate American dream. Under the attentive gaze of Tai, the illusion of an overseas future crumbles and turns into a series of mishaps and sorrows.

Tai's static shots of household objects and appliances cast the shadow of a possible home while acting as stark reminders of the austere space surrounding the pregnant women. Whether they are cheap hotels or low-cost hospitals, these buildings are landmarks of a concealed community of immigrants, who are marginalised by cultural and legal barriers. Understanding their limited status, the mothers return to China or continue the cycle of birth tourism, becoming American-based providers of services they once commissioned.

Beyond exploring the intricacies of a disturbing illicit business, the documentarist takes a deep interest in the women who take enormous risks for a shot at a better family future. Her brave observational style keeps the focus on future mothers, even in the maternity ward. Uninterested in comforting the viewer, she openly portrays the tense ordeal through which they persevere. The unflinching cinematic eye often fades to black in the hospital scenes but quickly returns, unable to ignore images of indifferent white walls, contorted faces and bloody rags.

Isolated from their spouses, family and country, the mothers begin to feel increasingly distressed. The fearless camera remains in the room with them, almost holding their hands through a shattering experience. Driven by compassion, Tai captures their angst and courageously tells an intimate story marked by uncertainty and a disquieting level of sacrifice.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2023
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A look into the booming shadow economy catering to pregnant Chinese tourists who travel to America to give birth in order to obtain US citizenship for their babies.

Director: Leslie Tai

Year: 2023

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: US


DOC NYC 2023

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