Review by Tatiana Miranda
In early 2019, American Renee Bach and her Ugandan medical nonprofit Serving His Children gained international media attention after an advocacy group filed a lawsuit seeking retribution for two mothers whose children died in Bach's care. While Bach's story is still fairly new, the underlying idea of a "savior complex" and "white savior" has been brought up regarding Christian missionary work in underdeveloped countries since before Bach even started Serving His Children. In the three-part HBO docuseries Savior Complex, Bach's organization is examined, along with the lawsuit that followed. On top of that, the discussion of the ethics of missionary work is interwoven in the series, leaving the viewer much to consider once the credits roll.
Despite the name of the documentary, Savior Complex doesn't try to persuade its audience of Bach's innocence or lack thereof, instead presenting the progression of her organization and its eventual downfall. Initially started as a program for free meals in southeast Uganda, Serving His Children turned into a medical clinic for malnourished children after Bach saw how malnourishment affected the community. As Bach herself states, she had no prior medical experience, yet she hired nurses through her organization and worked with the local hospital. It wasn't until an American nurse came to volunteer with the organization that Bach's potential malpractice came to light.
Along with interviews with Bach and her mom, who was part of the board for Serving His Children, the documentary also tells the story through the lens of Constance, who was the head nurse for Serving His Children from Uganda, as well as American nurse and former Serving His Children volunteer Jackie, who eventually called out potential malpractice in the organization. Other members of the community, such as a doctor at a local hospital and the leaders of the advocacy group No White Saviors, also detail their interactions with Bach and why her organization went the way it did.
While Bach continues to defend herself and deny accusations from No White Saviors and Jackie, contradictions are also shown through evidence from her blog at the time, as Constance tells the same story — albeit a bit differently. Still, the docuseries doesn't set out to paint Bach as the villain. Instead, it allows her to state her case and ultimately shows that she didn't set out to do harm, regardless of what members and followers of No White Saviors might believe. Although the documentary doesn't end with conclusive evidence of Bach's actions and the resulting justice, it brings up the topic of white saviors. It aso shows even though the work you're doing may be beneficial for the community, it might ultimately be the wrong way to go about it.
Savior Complex is a thoughtful and informative depiction of Serving His Children and Renee Bach, which also focuses on the bigger picture of neocolonialism and race relations in countries like Uganda. For those unfamiliar with Christian mission trips, this documentary will be eye-opening, and for those familiar with them, it will likely be a point of contention or introspection, much like Bach's reality.
Savior Complex premieres on Max on September 26. All three episodes reviewed.