In The Same Breath is a documentary regarding the start of the outbreak in China. Nanfu Wang directed and pieces together clips online with filming in secret that sheds light on the COVID outbreak. Because of the government’s preoccupation with looking good to the outside world the outbreak was far worse than it could have been and what they claim it was. The focus is on propaganda, rather than the truth. Many, despite knowing they are lies, do their part to propel it forward, masking it as their patriotic, nationalistic duty. 

What’s The Difference?

Perhaps the eeriest part about this is the similarities between this and our own country. There’s little difference between their behavior and what we see in the United States, particularly from the previous administration. Words like “patriotism” justify lying and stifling information and propelling propaganda. The same with phrases like “COVID hoax” that confuse and divide the public while removing the focus from those responsible. As Nanfu says, “when the government is telling us where to look, they’re also telling us where not to look.”

We can’t overlook the failure of these governments that prized appearance and capitalism over peoples’ lives. They chose to participate in a lie that cost over 2 million people their lives globally. It was not only the government in places like the US and China but the media. They continued to broadcast these lies—all of them from Fox to CNN to outlets like the New York Times. They chose to give a voice to lies, while ignoring emails, such as Nanfu Wang’s about the real dangers. 

United Lies vs. Fractured Divide
In The Same Breath director Nanfu Wang
Nanfu Wang, director of In The Same Breath, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Peter Hurley.

The only difference is unity. Mayor Bill De Blasio and Fauci downplayed the virus as nothing more severe than a cold or influenza, same as Trump, then turned around and faulted him as though he spread that blatant lie on his own and the government in China all united in the lie. Many in the US view China as the opposite of the US in terms of rights and trust in government. However, this In The Same Breath lays bare the parallels between both nations. From the presidents lying, to the medical part of the government lying (remember when the rules for mask-wearing kept changing in the CDC?), to the medical staff fired or punished for protecting themselves or speaking out about their hospital’s failings, to the media’s push of that propaganda, there is little difference. Trust is and should be, fractured. 

In The Same Breath shows the similarities between government, media, and medical responses to the pandemic as it spread. This is painful to watch because many of us have lost someone or know of friends who have—some horrifically more than one—and to see visually what many have gone through is traumatic. The videos of medical personnel telling families the hospital has no room so they go back home or be left on the street will make you sob. No one should be in a position to make a choice like that, especially when there is no choice. 

Patriotism and Nationalism Harm

It’s horrific to see the unity under the lie. Seeing people singing the anthem and realizing that this propaganda is going to spread worldwide will anger viewers. China’s handling of the outbreak will be seen as a triumph rather than a failure. It’s easy to feel nationalism is positive when you hear songs sung and see hundreds of people waving flags. But nationalism is destructive because it is often love and obedience to government. It’s not love for the people in the country and the media and government ensure it leans that way. Who cares if tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands (the US) died? Nationalism and patriotism runs deep, in China and in the US, and they close their ears to all else. They favor looking good over doing good.

The ones who love their people and their country are the ones usually targeted for harm by their government. Because they do not remain silent and their love for people extends beyond appearances. Yet, they are seen as the opposite of a national or patriot. In The Same Breath highlights the dangers people face when they challenge the lie.

What Happens To Them

There’s also terror as we consider what’s next for many in this documentary. If the government in China was arresting people for speaking out, what will happen to the them? They’ve lost and risked so much to give us the truth, but unless we globally put pressure on all our governments, there will be no change. It will just be more of the same, or worse, when the next tragedy occurs. Any form of government that has indifference for the lives of its citizens and favors power while using propaganda and threats to force compliance is, and will always be a failed system. In The Same Breath is a powerful documentary that will haunt audiences long after the credits roll. It makes you aware of what has happened, and terrified of where we are headed. A must watch, if you’re emotionally prepared to watch.

Rating: 4/5

Feature photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute