There is a rising middle class with fixed or declining social freedoms, and a history of imperialism running back thousands of years. Yet people like Ai Weiwei risk their lives, their family, all security, to speak. What's our excuse?
It is too easy to be overly influenced by the brutal daily news stories of radical assaults on freedom in this part of the world, and to form a conviction that the Arab Spring was little more than a sudden and very short-lived breath of fresh air.
Every society has constraints that offer opportunity for vision, freedom and courage. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" by Alison Klayman is a documentary about a man who appreciates the possibilities and challenges of this opportunity in China.
Artist Ai Weiwei could have had a career and a life that was easy. Maybe. After viewing Alison Klayman's documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, it is clear that the story of his family's personal history looms large as a psychological undertone of his evolution.
The lines between art, journalism, and documentary filmmaking are often blurry ones. In 2008, director Alison Klayman, at the age of 24, found herself crossing those hazy lines to record the story of a man famous for doing the same.
Alison Klayman, an American and recent college grad in 2008 went to China, not knowing precisely what she would do there. Asked to videotape Ai Weiwei, she fell into a subject much larger than a sculptor and conceptual artist.
This is the least of Hollywood's worries, for my money. The major studios have a bigger problem -- such as the fact that they so seldom make movies with serious themes or content. And they never address actual political issues if they can avoid it.
What if you live in a society where the very ideas you harbor are punishable by imprisonment -- or worse? How much of being an artist becomes about simply having the courage to express your ideas in verbal or physical form?