Tuesday, September 08, 2015

"A Path Appears": PBS Independent Lens series: Episode 2 ("Breaking the Cycle of Poverty") deals with "inequality of opportunity" in rural West Virginia, Haiti, and Colombia (Kristof and WuDunn)

I discussed the work of journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn on the Books blog Saturday (Sept. 5), after their appearance at the National Book Festival for their new book “A Path Appears” . But viewers may want to watch the three-part series on PBS Independent Lens (ITVS and the "Women and Girls Initiative").  It is “free” on Amazon to Prime members, and rather inexpensive to purchase online. Each episode is about 85 minutes, so it’s close to 4-1/2 hours of viewing time to invest. The husband-wife team had previously authored “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” regarding female participation in developing countries.

I first watched Episode 2: "Breaking the Cycle of Poverty" this morning, directed by Maro Chermayoff.  Kristof and WeDunn examine poverty (particularly for young mothers) in West Virginia (centered around Pt. Pleasant), Haiti, and Colombia.

The episode begins with a prelude (which may exist in all three of them) where George Clooney appears and talks about the natural need within human beings to find meaning in helping those who are least able to take care of themselves.

In his appearance at the Book Festival (as sponsored by the Library of Congress) Saturday, Kristof talked about the fact that a lot of “poor” or disadvantaged people compound their problems with bad decisions.  But one reason is that in these communities babies and toddlers lack the attention needed to develop “normally” so that they can learn to make responsible choices as teens and then adults.  Kristof and WuDunn summarize this specifically as “inequality of opportunity”. 

The first 30 minutes focus on low income residents of trailer parks in West Virginia, near the Ohio River, filmed in winter with snow.  Talking about environmentalism and cutting down on coal is not appreciated (it’s a “thought crime”). Save the Children, one of the largest secular charities, helps run the outreach for poor families and single mothers.  Many people are one car repair away from total destitution and eviction.  But many people are also tempted into the world of drugs, especially meth. Johnny Weethee, op-ed columnist, has written about this part of the report for the New York Times, "When even the starting line is out of reach",  here. 

It’s interesting that Point Pleasant is the location for the 2002 movie “The Mothman Prophecies” (Sony Screen Gems, directed Mark Pellington, with Richard Gere playing a journalist investigating a mystery, also with Laura Linney).

The filmmakers point out that Hurricane Katrina probably woke up a lot of people to domestic poverty, and I suspect they will film another episode about the Gulf later. 

The next segment presented Haiti, a few years after the earthquake. The segment showed aerial or drone photos of the shantytowns on hillsides (with pastel colors), and of the countryside, where most people don’t have electricity or Internet. The episode focused on rescuing a particular girl who had been trafficked into a kind of slavery, in a process called “restavek”.

The last section concerns Colombia, where a businesswoman organizes a home for young single mothers and their children, with the idea of giving the children the necessary head start.

Since Kristof and WuDunn are journalists (WuDunn is viewed as a business executive on Wikipedia) they, by definition, have to keep a certain emotional distance from the people about whom they report.  This is always an “ethical” problem: journalists feel that they “pay their dues” with conflict reporting overseas, or by reporting and going a certain but still circumscribed distance with the people upon whom they report.  But they are professionals.  It’s with “amateurs” like me that the ethical dilemmas really get interesting.

Pictures: Mine, 2012 trip, near the Kayford coal mine in southern W Va.


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