When Juliet Lammers and Lorraine Price approached me about making the documentary Inside These Walls, I was both enthusiastic and apprehensive.
The documentary tells the story of my father, Wang Bingzhang, a political dissident imprisioned by China, and our family. I was enthusiastic because I knew the film format had the potential to reach a huge audience and would help gain unprecedented attention for my father. It’s always been difficult to get the media interested in his case and I was immensely grateful that Juliet and Lorraine were so interested and committed to telling his story.
But I was also nervous. In advocating for my father, I was accustomed to telling his story in sound bites and simple narratives — I quickly learned that this was the mainstream media's preference. Most interviews are surprisingly brief. The interviewer often only has enough time to ask very simple questions about his case and my family’s efforts to free him.
On one hand, the brevity of these pieces is frustrating. A few minutes never seems enough to cover all reasons I think his case is compelling, or to convince people to care. On the other hand, it feels safe. I don’t have to talk about my childhood and our estrangement or explain my parents’ confusing marital status. Nor do I have to detail my father's controversial legacy in the Chinese democracy movement. By not complicating the story, it is easy for the media to depict him as a freedom-fighting martyr, who made the ultimate sacrifice, and me as a loving, grief-stricken daughter. It’s not a portrayal that I thought was wholly accurate, but it seemed helpful for his campaign and that’s what mattered to me.
So I worried that an in-depth look at his life, legacy and our family’s full experience might shed an unfavorable light on us. How would people respond if my father were portrayed not as a hero, but as a human? Would the audience still empathize with his plight when they realized how deeply flawed he was? It’s hard to articulate to even my closest friends how I feel about my father and my devotion to him. So I wondered if two people — who were talented filmmakers, but strangers (at that time) — could really capture the depth of our relationship.
In the end, I am deeply moved by the outcome of Juliet and Lorraine’s work. Inside These Walls is a thorough and honest film. It honors the life and work of my father without covering up his shortcomings. Ultimately, it tells our family’s truth and such truth is a powerful thing. My hope now is that the film inspires people to care about him not despite his flaws but because of his humanity.