Film Review: “Intended Parents”

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on November 30, 2021

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In our global fight against commercial surrogacy, we routinely find ourselves up against skillfully executed propaganda pieces that tug at the heartstrings and obscure objectivity, causing people to think that the ends justify the means when it comes to surrogacy.

Intended Parents is not one of those pieces. 

The 32 minute video produced by Dr. Louis Deon Jones is billed as a “short film,” but in reality, it registers a lot more like a cheesy 2 am infomercial for a surrogacy agency— a mess of strategically placed talking points separated by melodramatic stills of people crying to hammer the emotional manipulation home. 

The video opens and we find Anthony and his husband (a man who identifies as a woman named “Robyn”) exploring their fertility options with a specialist. The specialist rolls out the price points of their various package options as though they are discussing the purchase of a timeshare instead of a human life.

“The all-inclusive package,” she tells them, “includes sperm analysis, egg retrieval, medication for egg retrieval, egg fertilizing, PGS, genetic testing, egg implantation,” all for the bargain price of around $35,000.

Then, in a spectacularly gaslighty addition to the script, Robyn drops a bomb on the specialist. “You see,” he says, as though it’s not already abundantly obvious, “There is more to this story. I am transgender.”

It’s supposed to be a mic drop moment, wherein the viewer is forced to contend with how much harder third party reproductive efforts are for the trans community than they are for everyone else. The all-inclusive package isn’t truly inclusive at the end of the day; it won’t work for someone who doesn’t have eggs to retrieve or fertilize. 

The specialist doesn’t miss a beat; she segues seamlessly into the upsale, informing the couple that they can purchase the $35k package with some add-ods:  eggs for around $16k extra and a gestational carrier for another $50k.

Anthony and Robyn leave the appointment distraught. They can’t afford these expensive options no matter how they crunch the numbers. The oppression Olympics continue as they position surrogacy as an example of racial inequality: “Black people don’t get surrogates,” a friend tells them. “That’s expensive. Black people don’t got money like that.”

It’s a stunning display of cognitive dissonance. In the context of surrogacy, the true victims of racial disparity are usually the impoverished minority brown women whose reproductive capacities are exploited by the rich en route to the perfect family. But we digress…

Ultimately, Anthony and Robyn decide to forgo gestational surrogacy through the agency altogether and explore another route under the table: traditional surrogacy. They know this is a lot riskier and full of legal landmines, but after fighting about it, they conclude that the risk is worth it, and they set out to find a woman to inseminate.

Enter Veronica, a woman who shares an emotional backstory of her interest in serving as a surrogate. After a brief bonding session with the couple, Veronica offers, “I’m willing to give you both a baby for $70k flat rate.”

The couple enthusiastically agree to the arrangement, and we fast forward to a scene of Robyn sitting with tears rolling down his eyes as he stares into the empty cup that’s awaiting his sperm deposit. Again, the viewer is invited to empathize with how difficult it is for him to feel like a mom while ejaculating sperm. Anthony comes to reassure Robyn: “You are a woman,” as if repeating the lie magically exempts him from the material reality of his biological sex. 

The reassurance is the nudge Robyn needed. He fills the cup, and Anthony uses the good old fashioned turkey baster method to inject the sperm into Veronica. It’s a really awkward scene. When they’re done, she asks, “So, are you ready to draw up that contract?” (Wisdom might suggest drawing up a contract BEFORE letting a stranger insert anything into your vagina, but again, we digress.)

A few weeks later, Veronica calls the couple to tell them the great news: she’s pregnant! Everyone celebrates, but the party is short-lived. The film ends with Anthony horrified to see Veronica’s face on the local news, where she’s being outed as a con artist known for scamming people out of thousands of dollars via surrogacy fraud. 

The film ends, and we’re expected to be devastated for this poor couple. Per the typical surrogacy narrative, it’s the intended parents who deserve all the empathy and compassion without one hint of concern for the many women exploited en route to their desired ends. 

But the film falls dramatically short of its aim, having asked way too much of its audience and bitten off more than it could chew. Viewers have just 32 minutes to wrestle down the cognitive dissonance of forcing themselves to lie about Robyn’s sex, view him as a mother, and make peace with the fact that the couple is literally buying a human life for less than the price of some cars. It’s shady all the way around. 

When you’re willing to exploit other humans and rent out their body parts like kitchen appliances, you can’t feign surprise when a couple of things go wrong. Actions have consequences. This ends up inadvertently being the unintended moral of the infomercial.

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