SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The importance of legacy is an interesting question. Hollywood and society place a high value on it. Academy Award-winning Cate Blanchett brazenly stated during the panel for her Outstanding Performance of the Year Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival that she could care less about her legacy. Should we care what others think about us when we are gone? Co-directors Yair Cymerman and Adi Rabinovici’s documentary The Baby Daddy is about one person’s legacy.
Ari Nagel is a man who is seemingly addicted to donating his sperm for free and is the father to over 130 kids (and probably counting) as a result. What kind of legacy is Nagel leaving behind? A complicated one, to say the least, though the filmmakers do not make any conclusion on the morality of it all, instead taking a fly-on-the-wall approach. His eldest son, Tyler (one of three children the traditional way from Nagel’s previous relationship), is highly agitated with his dad’s actions, as is everyone else in his immediate family. The film documents Tyler’s pain and Nagel’s parent’s anger about what he does. Tyler questions the importance of siblings since he has so many that he’ll never truly get to know. Nagel is asked, “Who made you the creator of a new nation? The designated donor.”
Many of the women who use Nagel’s sperm donation to make babies (oftentimes in Target bathrooms) are minorities who cannot afford costly procedures to have them on their own. The mothers come off as overjoyed at being able to be parents when it did not seem possible. Nagel sees himself as a disrupter to the fertility industry, which can be seen as a positive. Having a child is such a special gift that one should not have to be well off to be able to afford it when fertility issues are involved. In that sense, the subject is doing a great thing.
“…seemingly addicted to donating his sperm for free and is the father to over 130 kids…”
The Baby Daddy does address the elephant in the room. Nagel can’t possibly be a true father or have an influence in the lives of all of these kids, as much as he offers and tries to. There are many single-parent households nowadays, but to knowingly and continuously create them is another matter. I would be fascinated to see another documentary down the line that examines how the children are doing, like the classic Seven Up! series from England that followed the same kids every seven years.
Addictions in any form are usually a dangerous thing, and to throw so many lives into the equation (which Nagel knows well as a college math teacher) only multiplies the riskiness of the “Sperminator’s” actions (as he has been dubbed by the media). The film reminds me of watching a car wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of.
The Baby Daddy is interesting, to say the least. It features a brisk runtime of an hour and eighteen minutes. Some viewers may find the lack of definitive answers to the meaning of it all a bit frustrating. But isn’t that how life itself usually plays out?
The Baby Daddy screened at the 2023 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.