A film by May May Tchao (China/2014/53:38)
SPILLED WATER explores how the economic transformation of China is changing the roles, rights, and social status of its women. Wanting to connect with her "distant sisters," decades after emigrating to the United States, Director May May returns to China and explores the very different lives of four women: a young rural farmer who, against all odds, became a teacher; a successful lawyer in a male-dominated profession; a divorced factory worker struggling to brighten her daughter’s future; and an ethnic minority singer torn between her dreams, and her responsibilities as a peasant's wife. From the urban hustle of Beijing to the desolate beauty of rural provinces, their intimate stories show us why gender equality in China is so hard-earned, and worth the struggle.
About May May Tchao
Born in China, raised in Hong Kong and a U.S. citizen for almost forty years, May May spent a career in advertising in Chicago. She earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin/Madison and Syracuse University and had serviced blue-chip clients in creative leadership and consulting positions for more than 30 years.
After sending her last child to college in 2009, May May Tchao dove into documentary filmmaking, developing film concepts that document China’s dramatic economic and cultural shifts as a way to give voice to Chinese women. May May’s unique background brings a tailored understanding of her homeland’s culture, allowing her to see its different virtues and burdens with empathy and a clear eye.
Self-taught and a firm believer in “learning by doing,” she honed in her craft by collaborating with top talents to explore compelling bi-cultural subjects interesting to a wide audience. She consults with filmmakers at Kartemquin Films and works with top China crew for research and production.
SPILLED WATER is May May’s first feature film. She has conceived the notion of making a documentary about the many aspects of transformation in Chinese women’s lives 20 years ago. The film itself is four years in the making and has been an amazing journey along the way.
Having emigrated from China to the United States several decades ago, I’m actively aware that I was spared the endemic gender bias against women and girls that is deeply rooted in the Chinese patriarchal society.
While the West is currently fascinated by China’s impressive ascension as a world economic power, I’m bothered that the conversation about their legacy of inequality between genders is fading even as that nation’s rapid transformation shifts women’s roles and rights.
This film is a personal quest, driven by a passionate curiosity to hear the voices of my distant “sisters.” In SPILLED WATER, I connect with four Chinese women from different social and economic backgrounds, and explore how China’s economy has provoked a dramatic transformation in all aspects of their individual urban and rural lives.
SPILLED WATER doesn’t dwell on sob stories from China’s past, nor does it render a superficial vision of a prosperous present. This film reaffirms the transformative power and potential of those who were once considered the weaker sex, granting viewers a rare and intimate glimpse into the lives of private citizens something the western media is often unable to provide.
Making this film has created an irrevocable bond between my “sisters” and me, and we hope our stories will encourage women everywhere to brighten their futures through education, economic participation, and activism. May we all continue to define our worth, and push back against the traditions which limit us.