Savior Complex

The three-part “Savior Complex” documentary from HBO is well-made and furious; it explores the tales of Renee Bach, No White Saviors, and Serving His Children. Although it’s an intriguing mash-up of colonialism, altruism, outrage, class, race, privilege, and naivete, what really lifts it into a conversation starter is how steadfastly it refuses to offer simple solutions. It’s likely that those who enter with the conviction that Bach is a monstrous monster on par with Hitler will find enough evidence to support their beliefs; those who enter with the conviction that she is a victim of activist hypocrisy masquerading as justice are likely to stick with their position.

By switching back and forth between Bach’s account and the other characters in this tale, intercut with incisive, illuminating footage, “Savior Complex” is a remarkable detailed analysis of this horrifying case that responds to the majority of audience concerns as they occur. Bach is never exonerated in the process, as devastating eyewitness testimony is used to refute her allegations and demonstrate that no one has the whole story.

Renee Bach discovered her calling in Africa when she was barely a teenager and embarked on a missionary journey to Uganda. She chose to start her own charity in the Jinja neighborhood after working at an orphanage. She did this by building a facility for malnourished kids in a region of the world where nutrition and sickness are ongoing challenges.

She hired a staff and registered Serving His Children as the name of her new NGO. Despite differing opinions on intent and even moral and legal responsibility, there are two things about what would happen next that are unquestionably true. 1. Bach saved the lives of local kids. Some mothers may attest to that. 2.) Bach began doing medical treatments for which she lacked the necessary training; she even acknowledged that she frequently relied on “gut feeling” rather than knowledge. There were over a hundred Ugandan children that perished, while the actual number is likely far higher.

When Jackie Kramlich, an American registered nurse, started working at SHC, she was shocked by what she observed, including a lack of knowledge and unhygienic circumstances.

She provides compelling firsthand reports of Bach dangerously delivering IV drips and injecting medications in the course of interview parts for “Savior Complex.” Other workers charge Bach with disobeying the recommendations and directives of licensed, knowledgeable Ugandan nurses and medical professionals. It is inexcusable to think that Bach would have disregarded a sound medical decision because of a gut instinct that even one child’s death.  No White Saviors became involved at that point.

A group called No White Saviors equates missions like Bach’s to colonialism, which is when people infiltrate a population and utilize their position of superiority to exert control over it. Director Jackie Jesko doesn’t shy away from the notion that Bach participated in this heinous ancient strategy, leveraging her status as a wealthy American woman of color to spread her view of God to the people of Uganda, regardless of the human cost. Furthermore, Jesko doesn’t overplay it like some other directors would have. She very deftly includes scenes—such as one in which Bach mispronounces “neocolonialism,” which, in documentary standards, is almost too wonderful to be true—where Bach might disclose her own blinders.

Jesko also makes a pretty intriguing suggestion about how young, white women can more readily assume leadership positions in missionary organizations around the world than in American organizations that are dominated by men. Bach defends herself in terms of only being a person while frustratingly downplaying the systemic difficulties at stake. She doesn’t appear to understand any underlying issues like this in her story.

Consider the shortcomings of No White Saviors, a group whose outspoken, passionate leader just happens to be a white American woman, and “Savior Complex” gets even richer. Seriously.

Even though Kelsey Nielsen brushes it off with humor, it amazes me that she doesn’t realize that she, too, is sort of a white savior defending Ugandans from other white saviors. This is especially true given that the group continues to advocate for Bach’s literal prosecution even when the facts don’t exactly support their position. For instance, a mother is interviewed for their case against Bach, but she views the missionary as an actual lifesaver. Rather than just accepting the perspective of the woman whose child was actually saved, NWS uses pictures of her child on social media to further their cause in a grossly exploitative way. And some of their social media efforts, particularly those that use Bach’s adoptive daughter, go too far and border on cruelty.

Even the numbers in the Bach instance can be challenging to understand. According to Bach and her team, which includes her mother, 105 kids perished at SHC, with an 11% mortality rate. The adjoining children’s hospital experienced a 14% death rate within the same time frame. These figures, however, cannot fully convey the story. Could Bach’s figure have been lower than 10% if she had paid more attention than she had done? If so, aren’t those lives worthwhile? But could that number have doubled without Bach’s presence?

Everything becomes into a contest of perception and interpretation, which by its very nature cannot have a victor.

By allowing viewers to leave “Savior Complex” with a deeper knowledge of the persons involved but no definitive explanations as to what transpired or who, if anybody, is to blame, Jesko and her team, which includes the legendary Roger Ross Williams as an executive producer, sidestep the clichés of true crime docuseries. No White Saviors’ expulsion of them from the nation, according to Bach, cost lives because no one was left to care for the area’s hungry youngsters who couldn’t get to a hospital. It most likely is true. Yet Bach’s kind of privileged righteousness is plainly very risky. True as well.

The entire series was seen for review. The HBO debut of “Savior Complex” is this evening, and two additional episodes will broadcast the following day. All three episodes are currently accessible on Max.

 

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