New film depicts a genetically engineered, anti-gay future
Posted by Doug Pet on March 17th, 2011
What might the world look like if traits like eye color, athletic ability, and skin tone could be pre-programmed for a price, and characteristics like homosexuality were eliminated through government-enforced inoculation?
Director Nisha Ganatra explores these questions in her provocative new 20-minute film Beholder, which was recently released online and at film festivals. It inaugurates the second season of FutureStates, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting / Independent Television Service project in which ten established and up-and-coming filmmakers explore current social issues by playing them out decades in the future.
Beholder presents a chilling scenario in which hetero-normative prejudices are realized through state-mandated applications of genetic and reproductive technologies. In an interview with Biopolitical Times, Ganatra said she wants to challenge viewers to imagine a future in which "difference is not only undervalued, but has been voted out completely."
Beholder protagonist Sasha lives in an ultra-conservative ultra-exclusive gated community called Red Estates, where streets are immaculate, crime is non-existent, and children are genetically enhanced. Scientists have also pinpointed a genetic marker for homosexuality, which has been outlawed by way of mandatory screening and inoculations during pregnancy (or, it is implied, forced abortions).
When Sasha finds out that the baby she is expecting carries the "gay gene," her doctor assures her that the problem can be quickly and easily resolved, and a nurse entreats her in a sterile and eerily polite tone to "please sign the consent form for the mandatory inoculation." Tortured by the thought of altering her baby, Sasha poses the question, "what if my child would have a better life being who he is?"
Under the looming threat of the "Genetic Protection Agency," Sasha knows that a decision to refuse the inoculation would mean fleeing Red Estates for "the Coasts," a place - according to Red Estates propaganda - that is rife with violence, poverty, and other social ills. In a campaign speech, Sasha's politician husband explains:
Recent studies find that genetically enhanced children, lead happier, easier, more normal lives than the coast children. Don't let your child be left behind!... Red Estates is a model city-genetically, morally, politically superior to everything beyond those borders. There are rules that make Red Estates great, and we have to live by those rules. For the greater good…No matter what the personal sacrifices.
Ganatra shrewdly shows how ideologies that champion using technologies "for the greater good" often disenfranchise, and in this case eugenically eliminate, those who have less power and have been deemed socially problematic. She told Biopolitical Times that it was her anger and disappointment over California's Prop 8 that led her to explore the question, "what happens when the majority can take away the rights a of a minority group?" Having come face to face in her own life with the emerging social and ethical questions around selecting sperm donors and their traits, Ganatra decided to unpack this question through the lens of reproductive technologies.
She added that her goal, and that of the FutureStates project as a whole, is not to deliver overly fantastic or dystopic stories but to capture the social realities of the present and predict their consequences for social justice in the not-so-distant future. "The great thing about sci-fi," she said, "is that one gets to ask the question, what if this wasn't just the worst-case scenario? What if that was only the beginning?"
Some sci-fi movies dwell on futuristic technological enchantments. In Beholder, Ganatra chillingly and persuasively shows what might happen if the social injustices of today are channeled through the technological possibilities of tomorrow.
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