In recent years the question of reproductive surrogacy, where an infertile couple hire a woman to carry their child and give birth to it, has become more complicated, as surrogacies have been increasingly “outsourced” to other countries. How business, globalization and parenthood intersect is explored in the extraordinary new documentary, “Made In India,” the feature debut by directors Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha.
A film about the human experiences behind the phenomena of “outsourcing” surrogate mothers to India, “Made In India” shows the journey of an infertile American couple Lisa and Brian, an Indian surrogate Aasia Khan and the reproductive outsourcing business that brings them together. Weaving together these personal stories within the context of a growing international industry, “Made In India” explores a complicated clash of families in crisis, reproductive technology, and choice from a global perspective.
Made In India looks at the economies, politics and ethics of reproductive outsourcing through the experiences of both an American family and their Indian surrogate. Why was it important for you to examine this phenomenon from both, contrasting perspectives? What do you think was the result of this combustion of experiences?
RH: ”Outsourcing” surrogacy is such a complex topic, it was very important for us to make a film that didn’t promote or condone the practice – but rather showed a full experience from different perspectives and then allowed the audience to draw their own conclusions. Our aim with the film was to raise questions – to really engage the viewer and challenge them to see all sides of the issue.
VS: Made in India would not have been possible without understanding the voices of those central to the film’s issues. Part of the resultant film was a thwarting of any simplistic portrayal of an Indian surrogate or western commissioning parents rather raising more complex questions. Also the transparency in our filmmaking process of allowing each person to speak for themselves also exposed a lack of transparency in the existing mechanism of reproductive tourism in India – in particular around payment, in the case of our film.
What drew you to making a film on this subject matter?
RH: I was very interested in exploring the crossroads between body politics and globalization. Surrogacy in general interested me in the ways that a huge market is forming around something as intimate as childbirth and parenthood. But I wanted to make a film that doesn’t sensationalize the subject – but instead looks at the real people involved.
VH: The relationship between the State and the body in India has always been of interest to me and I wanted to explore how this played out when a unique situation like outsourcing surrogacy brings parenthood and the global market into the fold. The interests of the state, the right of bodies, and assisted reproductive technologies bring a heady mix that make us dig deeper to ask complex questions.
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What kind of conversations are you interested in starting with this film, and what directions would you want to see them go?
RH: I hope people can discuss the fine line between personal choice and potential exploitation. I would love to hear a deeper discussion about what can be done to make this practice more fair and safe for the surrogates. Too many times, people simply say we need to ban this – but if you do that, you push women into a black market that is even more dangerous and potentially exploitative. We want to work with the surrogates themselves to help create regulations with their health and rights in mind.
VS: We have been fortunate that the film has raised many important questions and several discussions since its release. It has been especially gratifying to hear audiences in classrooms and in theaters across the US and internationally, tell us – “we came into this with a presumption, but we’re leaving with several questions.” In India I recently screened the film for a group of surrogates outside of Mumbai. The screening and the surrogate’s participation in our film encouraged them to speak candidly about their own experiences, many of which can be easily pegged under labor rights. You can view those here. Our goal with the film is for it to continue to be engaging and to bring greater awareness to the health and rights of women.
Part of the film’s intent is to complicate our perceptions of all parties involved in reproductive outsourcing and the power structures that connect them. In many ways, they are not who we believe them to be, whether it is an infertile couple from the US, or an Indian surrogate, or a business-oriented middleman. Were there any particular moments in the filming where you found your own assumptions challenged?
RH: Absolutely. Before I met any of the surrogates, I think I assumed a certain amount of victimization – I worried that these women were exploited by an unfair system and that they had no say. That assumption was quickly challenged when I met Aasia and other surrogates and realized the extent to which they have chosen this path, that they are in some ways empowered by their decisions, and most importantly, if the system is to change, the change should come from their input – not from outside observers dictating what should happen. I also really felt for couples like Lisa and Brian who are not out to exploit anyone – they are genuinely searching for a way to afford to have a child of their own, and they want the best outcome for everyone involved.
VS: Yes! Going into the film I had been interested in exploring personal stories and not assume victimization but I was not aware that Aasia, the surrogate in the film would surprise us to the extent she did. She is funny, charming and warm and she really brings depth to the film and raises the bar for discussions on women.
What are you working on now?
RH: I am in the early phases of developing several new projects, including one on the controversy over teaching global warming in public schools, and another that explores women and girls in the media.
VS: I am currently in the final stages of post production for my ongoing film “Kashmir” about three young students caught in one of the world’s deadliest conflicts, in the world’s largest democracy, India. The film will be released this year. And I’m developing two new projects.