1930s Drama Exposes Horrors of Forced Sterilization

Tomorrows Children

Tomorrow's Children

Tomorrow’s Children is a 1934 drama that intends to make a bold statements about everything that is wrong with forced sterilization.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube and the passage of time this film is both available for viewing and in the public domain. I have included both a plot summary (lifted from imdb.com) and links to all six parts in this post.  Note that this version has has been broken down by the YouTube poster (likely for manageability) and each part now has a short piece of introductory text.  It is also the case that there are no subtitles.

If you’re short on time you can catch the spirit of the film by reading the summary and then watching parts 1, 5, and 6.  Just note that by doing this you’ll be missing out on what really is a great little film that manages to have everything (Mistaken identity, tension between church and state, young love, spoiled dreams, megalomaniacs, and the list goes on) while making a bold statement that ran counter to many prevailing ideas of the day (and today!).

Plot Summary:

A young woman wishes to marry her boyfriend and raise a family, but because her own family has been deemed “defective” by the state health authorities–her parents are lazy alcoholics who continue to have children, and several of her brothers and sisters have mental problems–she is ordered by a court to undergo sterilization so that her family’s “defective genes” won’t be passed on to any more children. Her boyfriend and a kindly priest desperately search for a way to stop the forced sterilization before it’s too late.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Great! You made it to the end.  Nice little film wasn’t it?  I thought so, but I couldn’t help but feel that having the heroine saved by “mistaken identity/bureaucratic incompetence” really weakens the whole anti-sterilization argument that the film hoped to make.  There were stronger, although less tangible, arguments throughout, especially in part 4 (The appeal to the inhumanity of the procedure from the hospital bed), that could have been expanded and given more prominence.  Given how far the film had already gone in pushing its message of mistaken identity by part 5 I was wholly expecting part 6 to end on a very dark note.  I was happy that it didn’t at the time (As much as I despise to admit it I am a child of the American film industry), but on reflection I wonder if an I-told-you-so-now-look-what-you’ve-done approach might have driven home the point better.  Oh well, I guess I should just be happy that anything like this was even made in the 30s.

As a final note, the film should also be applauded for not continuing with what might be considered another attempt to feminize disability/weakness as this piece of trivia makes clear:

The mentally challenged patient who is strapped to the table is not an actor in makeup but a genuine microcephalic who was a veteran of circus sideshows who appeared under the name of “Schlitze”. Although he was a male, this film was one of the rare times he appeared as a male; he was normally dressed and exhibited as a female. [Source imdb.com]

Well?  What did you think?

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4 thoughts on “1930s Drama Exposes Horrors of Forced Sterilization

  1. What do I think? I don’t know, I couldn’t watch it but would love to. There’s no subtitles.

    Don’t want to spoil the party, but it would be *really* useful if this site adopted a policy to indicate whether films carried subtitles or not (when embedding film or even other auditory means into posts). Otherwise, I have to hit play hoping for the best, and more often or not be disappointed.

    The assumption that everyone can access a film by auditory means, is kind of irritating.

  2. A excellent comment Alison. My oversight is all the more unfortunate given that it was only a day or two ago that I had a conversation with Spirit of the Time (Rob Wilson) about making our blog posts more accessible! The gap between theory and practice can loom large, thank you for filling it with patience and polite correction.

    I have added a note regarding the lack of subtitles; it follows just after the description of how the film is presented on YouTube.

    Also, look for a Monday blog post by me that will invite the readers and bloggers of What Sorts? into a discussion about how to make this blog more accessible through the formation of some agreeded upon standards of presentation. There are so many of us now from so many different backgrounds that a conversation like this would would be useful and informative for everyone.

  3. I saw a movie about forced sterilization so far back in the 80′ s when I was a child, that I almose thought it was a dream. Tomorrow’s children. I’ve GOTTA remember that!

  4. Pingback: Building a Universally Accessible Blog « What Sorts of People

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