Objectivity in filmmaking when it comes to the topic of third-party reproduction is increasingly difficult to find. More often than not, films that navigate subjects like surrogacy and egg donation tend to romanticize these issues, framing them as amazing, beautiful experiences, while minimizing the important truths about their myriad risks and harms. It’s not objective reporting; it’s unadulterated activism. Jason Momoa’s recently released documentary Future People: The Family of Donor 5114 is a refreshing departure from this trend.
Future People chronicles the lives of a group of adolescents who discover they all have one thing in common- they were conceived using the sperm of donor 5114 at a California cryobank. There are 37 of them and counting; the oldest is now 23, the youngest just seven. Over the course of eight years, the siblings utilize social media and their shared curiosity to form meaningful connections with one another, building a complex web of half-siblings all across the country.
Thematic through the film is a shared sense of an aching need for missing pieces of the children’s individual identities. Each year, the families of these children meet for a giant reunion. These meetings are critically important in helping the kids better understand pieces of themselves as reflected in the siblings they may have never otherwise known. “We have the same feet,” remarked one pair of siblings surprised at the discovery.
At one poignant moment in the film, we see at least 10 kids circled around listening carefully to an old-school audio recording of donor 5114 giving information about himself to the sperm bank. It was 1996 when he recorded it. The kids learn that he has brown hair and brown eyes, Germanic roots, an optimistic and curious disposition, and an affinity for guitar music. We watch as the kids lean in, eagerly grasping for information that may help them better understand themselves. At the end of the recording, the interviewer asks donor 5114 if there is anything he would like to say to the potential children that will be born of his contribution. “Good luck!” he says cheerfully.
The camera zooms in on one girl’s face. She’s disappointed. “I wish he had said more than ‘good luck.’ It made me feel kind of empty. It made it seem like he just donated to get college money,” she said sadly.
She’s not the only one struggling. Teenage Alexa wrestles a sense of personal injury, rejection, and even some resentment toward her mom and step-dad throughout the film. “I do feel this thing missing, and I do, for myself, need to go and fill that. So as much as I love them, no they’re not enough in some ways. Yeah, it’s hurtful, but yeah, it’s true.”
Future People explores the raw family dynamics of these individual families without sugar coating or glamorizing. We see teenage angst and resentment and courage and beauty. We see tensions between the kids and the moms who chose sperm donation as a route to parenthood. We see moms at least begin to question the ethical implications of their choices. We see young people choose to rise above the pain and find beauty in connecting with one another.
What’s so important about this documentary is that, for once, the microphone and the platform are given to the people who usually remain voiceless in conversations about third-party reproduction: the kids affected by it. And even though these kids learn to make peace with the hand that’s been dealt to them, it’s virtually impossible to walk away from this film without asking yourself some of the oft neglected questions that really ought to matter most: Is this fair to the kids? Whose needs are being prioritized here? What are the long term implications of these reproductive arrangements?
It’s a badly needed piece of a usually one-sided conversation.
For another honest look at the effects of sperm donation, watch our documentary Anonymous Father’s Day.
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