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Half the Sky (2012)

Not Rated | | Documentary | 1 October 2012 (USA)
HALF THE SKY is a passionate call-to-arms, urging us not only to bear witness to the plight of the world's women, but to help to transform their oppression into opportunity. Our future is in the hands of women everywhere.

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HALF THE SKY is a passionate call-to-arms, urging us not only to bear witness to the plight of the world's women, but to help to transform their oppression into opportunity. Our future is in the hands of women everywhere.

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1 October 2012 (USA)  »

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Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide  »

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Written by Nathan Halpern
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Neoliberal Junk
12 July 2013 | by (NYC) – See all my reviews

I'm sure many people are going to fawn over this documentary. The kind of people who think they're highly intelligent and compassionate and loving and pat themselves on the back and blah, blah, blah. Humanity seen through the eyes of the market even as the market has exploited these same women (and continues to - i.e. Gap and other US retailers and Bangladesh factory workers). No thanks.

Read this and stop swallowing the garbage and regurgitating it.

Marketpiece Theater Nicholas Kristof and Milton Friedman rescue the world

tinyurl.com/p2sdf6n

...Yet the executives at PBS apparently decided that, on the eve of the 2012 election, American viewers must be reminded of the true path to global freedom. So on the first two days of October, Nicholas Kristof's fiercely neoliberal series Half the Sky reprised the tried-and-true Friedman formula, in content, form, and financing. Kristof, a lauded op-ed columnist for the New York Times, might seem at first blush an unlikely standard-bearer for the Friedman televisual tradition—but that is exactly the point. After three decades of steady high-market consensus in American culture and politics, the formerly doctrinaire libertarian Friedman and the putatively pragmatic liberal Kristof are now advancing the same policy objectives. The bestselling book on which the series is based (which Kristof coauthored with his wife, journalist turned banker Sheryl WuDunn) hits all the high notes of market triumphalism masquerading as considered social policy; its subtitle is Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, not Ending Gender-Based Oppression Because It Sucks and Is Immoral.

Half the Sky presents a litany of reforms tailored for a market-besotted (but, you know, concerned) viewing public. The show focuses obsessively on a distinctly Westernized notion of education (and the entrepreneurial opportunities that duly market-reformed schools provide), casts state-crafted barriers to market freedom as human rights issues, and understands women and girls in terms of "untapped" economic returns. "Time and time again," WuDunn says, "what impressed us the most is that girls represent an opportunity. Think of all that untapped potential." Yet in the great tradition of debate-reframing pioneered by Friedman, Kristof's show displays a chronic lack of interest in women's lived experiences under conditions of poverty. Stripped of its you-go-girl trappings, the basic argument is the same: more people should have access to the free market. Even the core format of the presentation—famous and flashy guest presenters, gritty travelogue footage, and a rotating corps of state-sanctioned or academic weigher-inners—is lifted from the Friedman series script.

Indeed, Kristof remains one of the Times' most ardent parroters of free-market dogma. From his prestigious perch in the paper's opinion section, he has downplayed the grievances of striking workers, single-handedly revitalized the Welfare Queen scare, and thumped the tub for neoliberal educational reform—i.e., the gradual privatization of the American public school system.

On screen, however, Kristof is happy to let others share the spotlight—and he has plenty of celebrity takers. George Clooney, in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role, opens the series. While images of a young female rape victim in Sierra Leone appear on screen, Clooney's voice-over explains that stories such as hers are "interesting." But the real story, we quickly learn, is Kristof himself: "Nick is the guy doing the legwork," Clooney proclaims. "The celebrity involvement may be able to amplify the story," the actor adds. "That's all. That's all we can do!" Clooney, long known to covet elected office, says this in the surprised tone of a man who has been asked to do more but has regrettably proved incapable. Of course, in a given year, George Clooney earns close to a full percentage point of Sierra Leone's entire GDP from his film work alone, so he could do more if he wanted to. But what he wants is for viewers to honor the under-appreciated work of a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning Times columnist while images of young brown women living under severe repression flash across the screen, context-free. (The corollary footage in Free to Choose has Friedman droning on about the failures of Social Security to promote market competition while brown urban youth play gleefully around an open fire hydrant.)

If this were a publicly funded project, a sense of accountability might have crept into the script. But like much of what now passes for public media, the film was funded by a coterie of foundations—longstanding ones, like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and Ford Foundations, but newer players, too: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, the IKEA Foundation, and the Nike Foundation. These are all, in other words, philanthropic arms of businesses that have derived enormous profits by taking advantage of some of the same women in developing nations we meet over the ensuing four hours...


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