|Directed by||Mark Crutcher|
|Produced by||Life Dynamics|
Maafa 21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America is an anti-abortion documentary film made in 2009 by pro-life activist Mark Crutcher to turn African Americans against Planned Parenthood. The film, which has been enthusiastically received by anti-abortion activists, argues that the modern-day prevalence of abortion among African Americans is rooted in an attempted genocide or maafa of black people. Considered propaganda by journalist Michelle Goldberg and historian Esther Katz, the film fits into a pro-life advertising campaign aimed at African Americans, to argue against abortion and birth control.
The film repeats elements of an American conspiracy theory called black genocide, using many of the same arguments as the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam in the early 1970s. It misuses statistics to induce in the viewer a fear of birth control and abortion. The film alleges that the eugenics movement targeted African Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries, that this was the basis for the creation of the American Birth Control League (now Planned Parenthood) by Margaret Sanger, and that this kind of race genocide continued in the form of the abortion-rights movement of the 20th and 21st centuries. The film puts forward the idea that Sanger was a racist who worked to reduce the population of blacks, and that Planned Parenthood is continuing this program. Sanger is implicated as an ally of Nazism and Adolf Hitler.
Critics have countered many of the film's points, arguing that Sanger was not a racist, that the eugenics movement was not especially focused on African Americans, that black women were largely in favor of birth control and were having abortions long before it became legal, and that instead of being a plot by Planned Parenthood, the high rate of abortion among African Americans comes from a correspondingly high rate of unplanned pregnancies. Esther Katz, director of NYU's Margaret Sanger Papers Project, has stated that the film presents a false depiction of Sanger's views and works. The film does not tell the viewer that Hitler banned birth control and abortion after he gained power.
The title comes from the Swahili term "maafa," which means tragedy or disaster and is used to describe the centuries of global oppression of African people during slavery, apartheid and colonial rule, while the number "21" refers to an alleged maafa in the 21st century (though beginning in the 19th), which the film says is the disproportionately high rate of abortion among African Americans. According to the film, Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood's founder, was racist, that she wanted to wipe out, or at least greatly diminish, the black race, and that she set in place a program to make this happen; a program which is being continued in the 21st century by Planned Parenthood. The film implies that African American women were forced by Sanger and the eugenicists to have abortions. Frank N. Carlson says that the film presents a continual stream of assertions which viewers find difficult to comprehend in total. A photo of Adolf Hitler appears in the film, presented as one of Sanger's "natural allies", and aborted babies are compared to Holocaust victims. The film states that abortion has reduced the black population in the United States by 25 percent. It discusses some of Planned Parenthood's origins (formerly the American Birth Control League), attributing to it a "150-year-old goal of exterminating the black population." The film features conservative African Americans, including politician Stephen Broden, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s niece Alveda King, who claims that Sanger targeted black people.
Release and screenings
Anti-abortion reviewers have generally embraced the film, while other reviewers have often criticized its attribution of racist views to family planning activists and its claims that attempt to link family planning to genocide.
Pro-life activists in Knoxville, Tennessee have praised the film as a "valuable tool for discourse" against abortion. MovieGuide, an online database of movie reviews that uses a "Biblical perspective" in reviewing films for families, gave Maafa 21 a "quality rating" of "excellent" (4 out of 4 stars), describing it as a "very carefully reasoned, well-produced exposé of the abortion industry, racism and eugenics" and says that it "proves through innumerable sources that the founders of Planned Parenthood and other parts of the abortion movement were interested in killing off the black race in America and elsewhere." Religious online news source Catholic.net also found Maafa 21 convincing, saying it "shows the connection from slavery and eugenics to birth control, abortion and black genocide today."
Loretta J. Ross, author of "African-American Women and Abortion: A Neglected History" and founder of several human rights and reproductive justice organizations, wrote that Maafa 21 is a "pseudo-documentary" by white anti-abortion activists, and that, rather than being racial suicide, family planning formed part of a "racial uplift strategy" supported by African-American leaders and black women, as they believed that in smaller families, each child could have a better opportunity.
The Liberator Magazine, an independent magazine about African diasporic culture, gave the film a mixed review. The reviewer said that the film "does a good job of placing the Eugenics movement into a larger historical context" but that "one gets the impression that the point [of the film] isn't so much about saving black people, but furthering a political agenda" against abortion, using emotional manipulation to do so. A similar response came from Harold Middlebrook, pastor at Canaan Baptist Church of East Knoxville and "a widely respected civil-rights leader." While rejecting the idea that Maafa 21 will have a lasting impact on African American culture, largely due to his apprehensions of the sincerity of the film's producers, Middlebrook said that he "believes the theory that Planned Parenthood may be attempting to limit black births to increase white dominance."
The film presents a continual stream of assertions which viewers find difficult to comprehend in total. Instead, viewers are left with several impressions: that Sanger was racist, that she wanted to wipe out the black race, and that she set in place a program to make this happen; a program which is being continued in the 21st century by Planned Parenthood. The film implies that African American women were forced by Sanger and the eugenicists to have abortions. A photo of Adolf Hitler appears in the film, presented as one of Sanger's "natural allies", and aborted babies are compared to victims of the Holocaust.
Critics of the film have countered many points made in it. They describe how Sanger was not racist and was instead much more sympathetic than many of her peers to the plight of the black race. They say that there were racist people on both sides of the eugenics debate in the early 20th century. They show that the eugenics movement in the US was little concerned with African Americans, having a much greater interest in limiting Hispanics and Asians. They describe how Sanger wanted birth control, abortion and sterilization to be made available to anybody who wished to have it, without regard to race. Critics show how African Americans, especially women, were largely in favor of birth control being made more available to them, and that black women had been inducing their own abortions from the earliest days of American slavery. Conservative pro-life activist Alveda King appears in the film; Loretta J. Ross writes that the presence of King is a co-opting of the legacy of her liberal uncle, the famous civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was very much in favor of birth control made more available to blacks.
It is certainly true that a higher percentage of African American women have abortions–about 40% of the pregnancies of black women end as induced abortion. Using data from 2009, black women had 477 abortions for every 1,000 live births, while Hispanics had 195 abortions per 1,000 live births, and whites had 140 abortions per 1,000 live births. Critics have said that this much higher rate of abortion among African Americans comes directly from a correspondingly high rate of unplanned pregnancies, which is in turn caused by very poor access to birth control among blacks. The film asserts that Planned Parenthood targets black neighborhoods, but Planned Parenthood has said that only 5.8% of its clinics are in communities that have a majority of African American residents.
Esther Katz, editor and director of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project (MSPP) at New York University, said that quotes and actions attributed to Sanger are taken out of context in order to claim that she had a racist agenda. Katz said that Sanger "certainly didn't want to wipe out the black race", and that it is "stupid" to argue otherwise. Katz acknowledges that Sanger "made mistakes" in her campaign for birth control and that debating her role in the eugenics movement would be "reasonable". The online blog for the MSPP which Katz edits describes the film as "propaganda." Journalist Michelle Goldberg called it "dishonest propaganda".
The eugenics movement in the US certainly targeted African Americans, but the film falsely implies that this was the main thrust of eugenics. Instead, a far greater effort was made by American eugenicists to limit the populations of Asian immigrants, Mexican immigrants, and Mexican Americans. The film quotes leading eugenicist Charles Davenport making a racist statement, but then the film fails to inform the viewer that Davenport was against birth control. As well, the film does not tell the viewer that Hitler banned abortion and birth control for ethnic Germans.
- "Smear-n-Fear". Margaret Sanger Papers Project. April 2010. Archived from the original on November 2, 2011. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
- Dewan, Shaila (February 26, 2010). "To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case". NYTimes.com. Manhattan, NY: The New York Times Company.
- Holloway, Lynette (March 15, 2010). "Some Black Pro-Lifers Say Abortion Is Genocide". TheRoot.com. online magazine: The Washington Post Company. Archived from the original on September 15, 2012.
- Goldberg, Michelle (March 9, 2010). "Anti-Choice Doc Aims to Link Reproductive Rights to 'Black Genocide'". Religious Dispatches. Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California.
- Carlson, Frank N. (June 2, 2010). "Anti-abortionists Accuse Knoxville Planned Parenthood of 'Black Genocide'". MetroPulse. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011.
- Solomon, Akiba (May 2, 2013). "The Missionary Movement to 'Save' Black Babies". Colorlines.
- Kumeh, Titania (October 12, 2010). "Conspiracy Watch: Is Abortion Black Genocide?". Mother Jones.
- Dewan, Shaila (February 26, 2010). "To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case". The New York Times.
- Ross, Loretta J. (Winter 2011). "Fighting the Black Anti-Abortion Campaign: Trusting Black Women". On The Issues.
- "Klan Parenthood", an interview of Mark Crutcher (7/22/2009)
- Rev. LeFlore III, Ceasar I. (January 10, 2010). "An Interview with Mark Crutcher". Freedom's Journal Magazine (FreedomsJournal.net). Matteson, IL: Wallace Multimedia Group LLC. Archived from the original on August 11, 2014.
- Kearse, Stephen (February 26, 2010). "Rage, of the Black variety: A Critical Response to Maafa 21". The Black Tongue. Retrieved July 27, 2014. Kearse cites historian Alexandra Minna Stern writing in Eugenic Nation, University of California Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0520244443.
- Interview of Dr. Alveda King
- MovieGuide. "Let My People Live". MovieGuide.org. Archived from the original on September 22, 2012. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- Catholic.net. "Maafa21 Black Genocide in 21st Century America". Catholic.net. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- Ross, Loretta J. (Fall 1992). "African-American Women and Abortion: A Neglected History" (PDF). Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 3 (2): 274–284. ISSN 1049-2089.
- Darnovsky, Marcy (April 7, 2011). "Behind the New Arizona Abortion Ban". Biopolitical Times. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
- Black Yoda (June 2010). "Maafa 21: black genocide in America (film review)". The Liberator Magazine. Retrieved November 23, 2011.