EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Michael Tobias "No Vacancy"

Dr. Michael Charles Tobias is the 2016 Martha Daniel Newell Visiting Scholar at GCSU, and President of DSF, a global ecological non-profit (www.dancingstarnews.com).
"No Vacancy," a film by Georgia College's 2016 Newell Scholar Michael Charles Tobias, screens Thursday, February,18 from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM. Originally premiering on PBS, the film views what has and has not been working regarding family planning, gender parity issues, and the demographic calculations that must figure in any ecological overview of the present and future condition of our species and its place in the biosphere. Tobias will discuss the issues as well as the making of the film and answer questions. Critics likened this film in its importance for women and their children around the world to what Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” was to warning and enlightening people about climate change. “No Vacancy” was shot in dozens of locations throughout the U.S., West and East Africa, principally Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya; some 75 locations in India, in China, France, the Netherlands, Italy, all through Indonesia, Iran and Mexico. From the Vatican to snow-bound villages in the far north of Iran, to a brothel in a remote region of Nigeria, there are riveting and deeply provocative insights into humanity which every student at GCSU is entitled to be able to see and contemplate.

"No Vacancy" could easily change views, perspectives and certainly add new conceptual realities to the many burning discussion points yanked out of today's headlines, all shot with a dozen film crews throughout the world in a style of unexpected cinematic scope for such a sobering subject matter. No Vacancy focuses on the geopolitical, economic, biological, cultural, sociological, emotional, humanistic, psychological and scientific realities confronting family planning, medical termination of pregnancies, sex education in a liberal arts world, abortion and religion, and the complex politics surrounding Planned Parenthood, particularly with regard to Roe v. Wade and what is at stake now for the Supreme Court and American people as they prepare to vote for the next President. The film will most assuredly stimulate intense reflection and discussion amongst students of every discipline and persuasion. All students are encouraged to arrive early for optimal seating. 

The following is an exclusive interview Her Campus has conducted with Tobias concerning No Vacancy: 

Her Campus: What was the main inspiration for “No Vacancy”? 


Michael Tobias: I have seen too much suffering in my life. Human suffering and pain and suffering amongst all those Others – those countless other individuals of other species. My life has been devoted to the alleviation of pain, to human rights and the mitigation of environmental injustice. “No Vacancy” is a very personal window on many of my own commitments, and those of my wife, Jane Gray Morrison, and those of our close colleague and brilliant population expert, Bob Gillespie -President of the NGO, Population Communication), who Hosts the film (and had to put up with my constant directorial nudging around the world. I didn’t envy him).


HC: What connection does “No Vacancy” have to the upcoming presidential election? 


MT: A woman’s right to choose and her right to privacy, which includes the use of contraceptives, could well be contested by the Supreme Court: both Roe v. Wade (1973) and Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) are now under a microscope from the political right wing. These hard-fought legal landmarks guaranteeing a woman control over her own body, were they to be reversed, would set this nation back, in my opinion, to the Dark Ages.


HC: Why is this film of particular importance to women and children? 


MT: “No Vacancy” has a cast of billions. Which is to say, it addresses the human population explosion, the burden of which for centuries has been placed upon women and their children. Men have too frequently – in nation after nation – opted out of the realistic equation in the sense that they have turned over the heavy lifting to their female partners. This has left a huge and tragic gap in gender equality that affects not only the offspring – all of the precious children – but the countless local and regional environments in which habitat and other life forms also become victim to a human runaway train of demographic and consumerist escalation. Discussion of the human population explosion has been shied away from by so many conservationists and environmental organizations, and this has not been a good thing for mothers and their kids. In “No Vacancy” these complex issues – the tying together of population, human rights and environmental issues - are vividly examined from Ghana and Nigeria to the U.S., India, Indonesia, Mexico and several Western European nations. At the heart of it all is one word: love. 


HC: How does “No Vacancy” relate to a liberal arts education? 


MT:  I believe the liberal arts refer primarily to that realm of socially relevant disciplines that inspire, challenge and broaden all of our horizons in a manner that comports with a respect for the dignity of every individual and the embrace of tolerance for everyone’s opinion, however contrary to our own convictions some of those opinions might be. We need to be reminded that our own ethical positions are important; but that it is also “OK” to change one’s mind; to observe; to be thoughtful and serious. One of the greatest joys in life is change, encountering new ways of seeing the world and being courageous enough to listen and learn. That is why the many disciplines open to us as students and faculty and society at large – a near infinite array of pathways – makes this particular generation so crucial to the future of the biological world we know as earth. We have to be informed, and we must invite constant consideration of differing viewpoints if we are to advance as a society. This momentum, in its best sense, is at the core of any fine liberal arts institution, like Georgia College. What makes “No Vacancy” a challenging film is the fact it confronts stereotypes and sets forth a number of viewpoints that will make some viewers uncomfortable. It is a fact-finding odyssey in search of human rights and environmental justice and neither of these journeys are easy.


HC: It has been noted that No Vacancy breaks many taboos. Can you please elaborate on this? 


MT:  Discussion of population issues has always been thought of as taboo. Ecologists, as I mentioned earlier, have tended to fear it. They understand it, make no mistake: but they fear it. “No Vacancy,” which is a sequel to my 1995 PBS film and book, “World War III” takes on the population explosion without blinking. In “No Vacancy” viewers will actually see (momentarily) a vasectomy performed in Iran with commentary by a Shia cleric, as well as men and women and women health workers speaking out on the progressive aspects of family planning and women’s rights under Islamic traditions in Iran. This flies in the face of the supposedly all repressive unknowable and hidden Iranian stance on women and child rights. It comports with the fact that the number of children per couple in Iran has dropped dramatically during the past two decades. As reported by the Population Reference Bureau, using United Nations data, “According to the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, fertility declined by more than two-thirds, from 6.6 births per woman in the mid-1970s to about 2.0 births per woman in 2006. The most surprising and impressive decline occurred in rural areas.” (* Seehttp://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2009/iranyouth.aspx) This, in turn, however, has also created a so called “youth bulge,” referring to the fact that 60% of all Iranians are under the age of 30. Another taboo, if you will, that is seen in the film is the progressive stance taken by some West African Family Health programs in curbing sexually transmitted diseases.

In India we see the often incomprehensibly harsh circumstances surrounding family planning practitioners making the arduous rounds heroically against astonishing odds.

In East Los Angeles, we look at the reality of the Latino situation for women, through the lens of Planned Parenthood.

And in Mexico we see very graphically how advanced sex education is taught in the schools: it is something you would probably never see in any school in the United States. Viewer discretion is most assuredly advised. And by the way, there is also a book tie-in to “No Vacancy,” by the same title, in which scores of interviews seen in the film, but also left out of the film, are published in full, with accompanying commentaries. Thanks so much for your interest in this. I’m delighted to learn about GCSU’s “Her Campus”. 


To find out more about Dr.Michael Charles Tobias, go to: www.dancingstarnews.com.