Montclairian wins MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Award’
By GWEN OREL
Montclair resident Nanfu Wang has been named as a MacArthur Foundation fellow, the award known as the "Genius Award."
Wang, a 34-year-old documentary filmmaker, was announced yesterday, Oct. 6, as one of the 21 people in the MacArthur Class of 2020.
Wang joins Montclair State University Associate Professor Jeffrey Alan Miller, who was named a fellow in 2019.
"In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters, and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration. They are asking critical questions, developing innovative technologies and public policies, enriching our understanding of the human condition, and producing works of art that provoke and inspire us,” MacArthur Fellows Managing Director Cecilia Conrad writes on the MacArthur website.
The three criteria for being chosen are:
- Exceptional creativity;
- Promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments and;
- Potential for the Fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
Wang, MacArthur Foundation writes, has been chosen for "creating intimate character studies that examine the impact of authoritarian governance, corruption, and lack of accountability on the lives of individuals."
Wang's films include "Hooligan Sparrow" (2016), which centers on Ye Haiyan, a Chinese women's rights activist, as she protests the sexual abuse of schoolgirls in six elementary schools, and "I Am Another You" (2017), which is a portrait of a homeless man in Florida, that develops into a portrayal of mental illness. Her most recent film is "One Child Nation" (2019)." This film explores China's one-child family planning policy, that was in effect from 1979 to 2015, looking at the societal toll, including babies abandoned or given up, an obstetrician who had to abort thousands of fetuses, and the growth of human trafficking. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019.
The Fellows include scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs and people in all fields. Each fellowship comes with a stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years. Fellows do not apply and are not told that they have been nominated, and do not need to report on their work; the MacArthur Fellowship describes itself as a "'no strings attached' award in support of people, not projects."
Last summer, we wrote about Wang and her film when it played at DOC NYC, a documentary festival based in Manhattan, run by Montclair residents Raphaela Neihausen and Thom Powers.
Wang had been a videographer at DOC NYC while a graduate student at NYU in 2012.
Montclair Local wrote: "Wang herself believed all the pro-one-child policy propaganda and did not question it until she had left, she states: 'I would sing the propaganda songs, I would participate in events that the Communist Party organized, I was a student leader in the university back in Shanghai, and I worked for the university, and I would even do propaganda work for them, writing propaganda articles for them.”'
And later, after she’d left China, she wondered how she could have been so ignorant. In the film, she allows the propaganda to speak for itself, almost like a character.
"I hope the film will be seen by current students, people who want to make films," she said. “I want them to know that the path of becoming a filmmaker is hard but not impossible.”
Filmmaking, Powers said, quoting critic Roger Ebert, is 'a machine that produces empathy.
"That’s what it’s all about."
The MacArthur Foundation writes of Wang that her "provocative films are deepening our understanding of the impact of state policies on citizens while elevating the experiences of those with the least power over their circumstances."