Polygamy in Bali: not a case of ‘Sister Wives’

May 23, 2016
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Polygamy is still legal in Bali and officially accounts for 10% of the province’s legal marriages. Keep in mind, some of these marriages go unreported so the real figure could actually be much larger. 

The documentary “Bitter Honey,” which was just released in the U.S. this Friday, takes a look at polygamy in Bali by profiling three different polygamous families. American anthropologist made the film after spending seven long years filming the Balinese families. 

As critic Sheri Linden notes in her LA Times review of the documentary, “Bitter Honey” is much more “60 Minutes” than “Sister Wives.” The film is not a parade of interviews with wives saying they’re surprisingly content with their marital and family situation—it’s a call for women’s rights and a portrait of gender inequity in Bali. 

One wife profiled in the film found out on her wedding day that her groom would also be marrying someone else in the same ceremony, while another wife choking back tears shared that her husband had another wedding when their child was just 11 days old. The film goes on to explain the negative cultural and religious connotation of divorce and why it’s not so simple for the wives to cut these polygamous husbands loose. 

A review in Variety scrutinized that the film is too narrowly focused to support some of its wider claims on the larger issue of domestic violence in Indonesia.

However, regardless of whether the film pulls off all it attempts to do, it’s still refreshing to see someone bringing women’s issues in Bali to the forefront.

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