Documentaries that raise awareness, particularly for issues very few know, serve one of the most important purposes of cinema. Jeff Chiba Stearns’ film does exactly that, although with an approach that could be deemed a bit unusual. Let us take things from the beginning though.
Multiracial people, called “hapa” in North America, are probably the fastest-growing demographic in the world. Being of mixed-race is not just about an identity, but can be a matter of life and death. Due to their complex genetic makeup, mixed-race cancer patients struggle to find bone marrow or blood cell donors. Not only are ethnicities such as Asian or African under-represented in the available databases, mixed-race profiles are even rarer.
Jeff Chiba Stearns directs a documentary that deals with this issue as analytical as possible, dealing with all possible angles. Starting with the explanation of the DNA differences that cause the incompatibility in different mixed races, continuing with Athena Mari Asklipiadis’s effort to deal with this issue that led to the Mixed Marrow, an organization dedicated to registering multi-ethnic individuals to the donor registry, the role of volunteers in the effort for awareness and cataloguing possible donors, the issues people that suffer from various blood cancers have to face, including little children, the procedure before, during and the after such an operation takes place, both for the donor and the recipient, and even the racist aspect. The documentary becomes somewhat of a human-portrait film after a fashion, through a number of interviews of people involved in all aspects of the issue.
Jeff Chiba Stearns is an animation director and he implemented much of his line of work in the film, particularly in order to present the scientific aspect of the issue, in a tactic that makes the facts much more approachable and entertaining to the viewer. Furthermore, the almost constant use of “hopeful” music gives a cheerful note to the whole film, despite its rather dramatic essence. This part is the only objection I have on the documentary, since I felt that this presentation is somewhat unfit for such a subject, particularly since the dramatic consequences of the disease are quite well portrayed. On the other hand, I understand the reasons behind not wanting to make such a hard issue even harder, and to present a note of hope through the film.
The editing of the movie is one of its best aspects, with Stearns combing the different kinds of presentation (animation, interviews etc) in a way that allows the documentary to flow nicely and retain its interest for the whole of its 96 minutes.
Despite my slight objections to a part of the presentation, “Mixed Match” is a very important documentary that deserves a watch from everyone, since it highlights an issue that is as significant as it is unknown.