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The Ecstatic Empathy of Motherhood

May 12, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by Nanfu Wang

Becoming a mother changed the way Nanfu Wang saw the world. This is an experience common to new parents, but it’s often ineffable. Wang’s new film, Between Everything, renders the perspective shift of motherhood in cinematic poetry.

Premiering on The Atlantic today, the film uses evocative imagery and sparse narration to convey the mutability of time that Wang experienced after her child was born. Time expanded and contracted—the future became ever more tangible, while the present began to take on a new urgency. “I’m more aware now of how precious time is,” Wang told The Atlantic.

Wang said that motherhood also helped her become more patient, more responsible, more grateful, and less selfish. “I have huge respect now for other mothers,” she said. “Only a mother can truly understand what a woman goes through to give birth and raise a child. It also made me more empathetic—now, when I look at every person, I see them as someone’s child. I imagine the perspective of their mother—how she would love, care, worry, and feel proud of this person I [am meeting] now.”

The newfound responsibility of motherhood also impacted how Wang thinks about her career. As a documentary filmmaker, her work is all-consuming and often risky. Her 2016 film Hooligan Sparrow exposed China’s institutionalized tolerance of child rape, putting Wang at the mercy of the Chinese government, which harassed and attempted to silence her. To make her second film, Wang lived on the streets with the drifter she was profiling. She said she wouldn’t risk arrest or live homelessly now that she is a mother.

Although documentary filmmaking is challenging, Wang continued, “I feel motherhood is ten times more so. As a mother, every day is new. I have to constantly adapt to the new needs and questions the baby will have. It’s lifelong learning.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.