A Dangerous Idea
Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream
Examines the history of the US eugenics movement and its recent resurrection, which uses false scientific claims and holds that an all-powerful "gene" determines who is worthy and who is not.
Directed by Stephanie Welch
Produced by Stephanie Welch, N. Jed Riffe
Executive Producers: Mary R. Morgan, Andrew Kimbrell
Writers: Stephanie Welch, Andrew Kimbrell
Editors: Maureen Gosling, Sara Maamouri, Stephanie Welch
Composer: Jonathan Zalban
Creative Director/Associate Producer: Ann Skinner-Jones
Consulting Producer: Bertram Verhaag
Narrator: Neil Harvey
A Paragon Media production in association with Denkmal Film
[Note: Community screenings of A DANGEROUS IDEA can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"In this time of false facts and backlash against a new equality, A DANGEROUS IDEA should be required viewing." Gloria Steinem
Note: DVD can be played in two 53-minute parts for classroom and other uses.
There is a dangerous idea that has threatened the American Dream from the very beginning. It is a strong current of biological determinism which views some groups, races and individuals as inherently superior to others and more deserving of fundamental rights. Despite the founders' assertion that "all are created equal," this idea was used to justify disenfranchising women, blacks and Native Americans from the earliest days of the Republic.
A DANGEROUS IDEA: EUGENICS, GENETICS AND THE AMERICAN DREAM reveals how this dangerous idea gained new traction in the 20th century with an increasing belief in the concept of an all-powerful "gene" that predetermines who is worthy and who is not. The film reveals how this new genetic determinism provided an abhorrent rationale for state sanctioned crimes committed against America's poorest, most vulnerable citizens and for violations of the fundamental civil rights of untold millions.
Featuring interviews with social thinkers including Van Jones and Robert Reich as well as prominent scientists in many fields, A DANGEROUS IDEA is a radical reassessment of the meaning, use and misuse of gene science. Like no other film before it, this documentary brings to light how false scientific claims have rolled back long fought for gains in equality, and how powerful interests are poised once again to use the gene myth to unravel the American Dream.
Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2017
Copyright Date: 2017
DVD ISBN: 1-941545-97-1
"Yes, this is a dangerous idea--and if you want to better understand why, watch this film and see the history, development and presentation of this idea that there is a book of life, a program that determines, from the moment of conception, all that we are and can be. It is indeed one of the more dangerous ideas humans have come up with."
Barbara Katz Rothman, Professor of Sociology, City University of New York, Author, The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Implications of the Human Genome Project
"The never-ending challenge with eugenics is making that abhorrent history relevant to a contemporary audience. A Dangerous Idea meets that challenge by showing how the very same biological justifications of inequality that were used in the past to justify involuntary sterilization, slavery, and genocide are employed in the 21st century to justify anti-immigration policies, the gender pay gap, and racial health disparities. As modern science and modern medicine focus more and more on genetics, A Dangerous Idea reminds viewers that this obsession with genetics is employed by many to promote a vision of society made up of biological 'haves' and 'have nots'."
Dr. James Tabery, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, University of Utah, Author, Beyond Versus: The Struggle to Understand the Interaction of Nature and Nurture
"A timely look at earlier injustices and current threats that are tied together by an insidious thread of perverted science."
P. Hall, Video Librarian
"An essential and engaging work that I would like to see on the curriculum of every high school, and played in every library, in the United States. It highlights a shameful side of our society, the devaluation of racial minorities and the poor with supportive pseudoscience, which was mainstream policy for much of the nation's history...These corrosive ideas, accompanied by newer, equally bad science, are now back in full force. This film has appeared at the right time to help turn back this poisonous tide."
Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, New York Medical College, Founding Member, Council for Responsible Genetics
"An exceptionally important film. The scientific world is much too DNA centric and when this world view is sold to the public by the scientific elite, it could lead to the destruction of democratic societies. With the ability to manipulate and then sequence DNA, many scientists assumed that this information would lead to curing most diseases and making genetically modified plants that would feed the world...More complex diseases such as Alzheimer's and traits such as intelligence are not the result of simple genetics, but of the complex interactions between individuals, social, and environmental factors. Making policy decisions based upon genetics is not only dangerous, but also not scientifically valid."
Dr. Dave Schubert, Professor and Head, Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
"A Dangerous Idea is not only rich historic storytelling but an important reminder about the connection between science and equality; a subject that couldn't be more relevant. This film should be shown in schools as it is ripe for intense discussion and needs to be seen by as wide an audience as possible."
Aaron Leventman, Director of Programming, Santa Fe Film Festival
"Excellent documentary...Illustrates how these dubious concepts have been shaped to espouse an idea that is not only dangerous but goes against what America supposedly stands for. A scathing indictment of a reprehensible idea whose time is indeed up."
Brent Marchant, Library Journal
"Dead on - [The filmmaker] connects the unsubtle ideology of fascist doctoring with the unsubtle democratic policies of welfare reform, unemployment, deregulation and urban management."
Martin Billheimer, CounterPunch
"An effective dissection of the genetic determinist worldview, rising again in new garb and aided by the Trump Administration. This documentary provides a timely rebuttal to those who continue to embrace this dogma, and offers a critique that both Liberals and Conservatives can readily converge behind."
Ralph Nader, political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney
"Extremely timely because of the new Trump administration and the threat of a new biologically determined politics. Trump takes an almost social Darwinian view of immigrants, women, people living in poverty and others. And that's dangerous."
Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California - Berkeley, Former U.S. Secretary of Labor
"A very well-done documentary...Its most powerful feature is the exposure of the ugly truths about our society's own public policies based in the philosophy of eugenics...An invaluable educational tool."
David Brock, Science Books and Films
"As the Trump administration's openly racist policies become ever more pronounced...[the film] serves as an anti-toxin...A Dangerous Idea takes on the bogus science that underpins Trump's complaint about too many people from 'shithole countries' like Haiti and not enough from Norway...If A Dangerous Idea was solely about eugenics, it would be worth tracking down. But what gives it added value is its critique of genetics as a way of understanding human beings and society in the face of commonly accepted beliefs that genes determine destiny."
Louis Proyect, CounterPunch
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DVD can be played in two 53-minute parts for classroom and other uses.
Scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Host a community screening
The Film's Website
Awards and Festivals
Best Documentary, Santa Fe Film Festival
Best Feature Film, Ogeechee International History Film Festival
Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival
American Psychological Association Film Festival
Savannah Film Festival
Red Rock Film Festival
Coronado Island Film Festival
Western Psychological Association Film Festival
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Exposes the ways in which America's foreign policy agenda in the Middle East drives the mainstream media's portrayals of Arabs and Muslims.
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... more Reviews
"A Dangerous Idea deals with a highly topical subject...Even spectators who have been studying genetics and eugenics for some time can learn...The social Darwinist ideas, that is the assumption of a 'natural' selection in societies behind the massive current dismantling of social programs in the US and elsewhere, are also being exposed. The film advocates equal opportunities for all...highly recommended as an educational film!"
Isabelle Bartram, Gen-ethischer Informationsdienst (Gen-ethical Information Service)
"Is biology destiny or is human behavior and development influenced by social, political, economic, and environmental factors?...[This film includes] discussable issues abound for sociology, biology, humanities, history, current events, political science, and philosophy classes."
Maggie Knapp, School Library Journal
"Highly Recommended...'Provocative' does not begin to describe this unsettling work. This documentary will force one's ethical standing out of one's comfort zone...An outstanding starting point to engage students in lively debate, as well as serve as an extensive information piece for the fundamentals and near-term future of genetic research."
Michael J. Coffta, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Clear and thorough...The film tackles the longstanding belief that social differences and inequality are in our genes...The result is a clear illustration of how science has been used as a tool to rationalize social hierarchies and justify discriminatory and violent social policies throughout American history...Welch's film serves as a useful tool for teaching students about the ways difference and inequality get mapped onto biology."
Natalie Lira, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Films for the Feminist Classroom