The subject of the new documentary Dwarves Kingdom is so self-evidently problematic that at first it’s even a little hard to fathom: Kingdom of the Little People, a Chinese amusement park where all entertainment is provided by performers who are less than four feet tall. They dress up in glittery costumes, sing, dance, pretend to be kings and fairies, pose for pictures with guests.
Director Matthew Salton gives us several doleful looks around the park—it’s a shabby, run-down little thing, and seems sparsely attended—and humanely presents the lives, longings, and memories of a few of the performers. We follow one lady as she leaves her position at the park, only to soon find herself working as an entertainer at a different amusement park, all the while nursing the dream of becoming a movie star. The despair is almost too much.
About halfway through the film, we’re finally given access to the owner of the Kingdom of the Little People and some of his management team (heights: average), who are impenetrable in their insistence that the underlying motive of the project is charity and goodwill.
They argue that the park is a humanizing force that allows the performers to both provide for themselves financially and showcase their resilience. This is obviously a dubious claim, yet fascinating, too, because it’s indicative of a worldview wherein market forces are allowed to determine human value and asking someone to trade their dignity for a paycheck is considered normal.