Dawn Sinclair Shapiro
Columbia Law School screening (November 2016)
An investigation into North Carolina’s four-decade-long modern eugenics program.
Between 1933 and 1974, the state of North Carolina sterilized an estimated 7600 residents without their consent – but legally. Like the majority of the US, NC had adopted eugenics laws prior to World War II, convinced that the dodgy science would help maintain the strength of genetically superior Americans. Targeting those deemed “undesirable” – poor, disabled, feeble-minded, or promiscuous – these laws introduced compulsory sterilization, and in more extreme cases, euthanasia. Class, race, and gender played into these programs, affecting poor white and black residents alike, with NC among the most aggressive of states enforcing the practice until an ACLU lawsuit brought led to reforms. The public had long forgotten this dark chapter of the state’s past until the Winston-Salem Journal revisited the law’s impact in a series of articles in 2002. While fairly conventional in its approach, Shapiro’s film attempts to broaden the story further, giving voice to survivors of the practice, researchers and journalists who exposed it, and lawmakers who have championed reparations to in some small part make up for the abuses of the system.