Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Human Trafficking Films

Many people first encountered human trafficking through the Lifetime film released in 2005. Others saw Slumdog Millionaire or Born Into Brothels. From mainstream films like Despicable Me and The Girl Who Played with Fire that use human trafficking in service of their plots, to documentaries like Playground, The Price of Sugar, and Very Young Girls, to fictionalized representations of trafficking like Holly and Svetlana's Journey, many filmmakers have presented human trafficking in a variety of different contexts for different purposes. This month, we take a look at some of those films.

Taken, released in 2008, was the first major American motion picture about human trafficking. It highlights the real and present danger that threatens people across all socioeconomic classes. In that respect, it deserves much credit. The film opened up discussions about an issue that has long been silenced. However, Hollywood was the overdramatic and far fetched facilitator in these discussions. Taken, although well intentioned, was a far too unrealistic film that promoted excessive violence and idealistic plots. Bryan, the main – and seemingly indestructible - character played by Liam Neeson, spends the entire movie trying to retrieve his teenage daughter back from traffickers after she was kidnapped in Paris during a vacation with her friend. Bryan attempts to navigate his way through a deep and intricate Paris trafficking ring almost solely on his own force and a few loose connections with French authorities. And of course, as in all similar vigilante justice movies, he dodges all the bullets, punches and explosions to emerge the victorious hero. Yes, the movie clearly suggests the danger that inevitably follows every aspect of human trafficking in the real world. But it fails to mention that it is not encouraged for one man to take on an entire human trafficking ring by himself – even if he is a former CIA paramilitary operative. The movie is so over the top dramatic that the audience is left with little more than exciting action packed scenes akin to Jason Bourne, Man on Fire, Braveheart – and come to think of it – every Denzel Washington movie ever made. What is grossly unfortunate, however, is that the storyline of women and children trafficked into prostitution is only a means to another man-on-a-righteous-rampage flick. In my opinion, Taken was a missed opportunity to educate Americans about a very dangerous and heartbreaking reality.

In just 23 short minutes, the movie Not For Sale by Marie Vermeiren attempts to demystify the deceptive forefront to a better known, and more widely accepted human trafficking industry- prostitution. What this documentary-style movie lacks in glamour and special effects, it makes up for in the hard facts that it constantly throws at the viewer in bold, large typeface. Survivors and women in politics use the film as a speaking ground against prostitution, using their own experiences as evidence to the exploitation of women and children involved. One of the main concerns of the film is the impending legality of prostitution worldwide, which they believe in affect legalizes the abuse, violence, and violation of human rights enacted on those involved. Educational and straightforward, this film is a perfect introduction into the reality of prostitution, its conventional misconceptions, and the psychological consequences of being treated as a sexual commodity. So mute the commercials during your favorite show or watch this on your iPhone on your commute to work, 23 minutes is all it takes to realize the horror of this issue, thanks to this short film. Go ahead, watch it online for free.

In 2008, Justin Dillon released the film Call + Response. After learning about human trafficking, he felt called to join the anti-trafficking movement, and decided to do it through his skills as a musician and artist. The "rockumentary" brings together commentary from many of the fields luminaries, including Kevin Bales, Madeline Albright, Nicholas Kristoff, Julia Ormand, and Cornell West, as well as musicians ranging from Cold War Kids to Natasha Bedingford and Imogen Heap. The film uses the first abolitionist movement of the 19th century as inspiration and to contextualize its thesis that "Music is part of the movement against human slavery. Dr. Cornell West connects the music of the American slave fields to the popular music we listen to today, and offers this connection as a rallying cry for the modern abolitionist movement currently brewing." The film aims to be a call/inspiration that demands a response in the form of action from it audience. Recently, Call + Response released various tool kits for hosting screenings. As Cornell West reminds us, "Justice is what love looks like in public," which is a call that certainly necessitates a response.

At least once a week someone asks if I have seen a particular movie on human trafficking. It is always awkward. Despite having studied and worked in this field for several years now, I intentionally avoid movies on the topic. At first, I did not really understand what made me reluctant to do so. I have trouble sitting still. I do not watch many movies in the first place, but my willingness to watch movies on human trafficking is less than normal. One day, I realized each film about human trafficking is meant to evoke strong emotions in the person watching, whether it is a drama or a documentary. I am person who takes on other people’s emotions easily and understands things the most when it is represented visually. In other words, movies on the topic of human trafficking shake my core and keep me up at night. When I first realized this, it was liberating. Since then, I have met others who share my sentiments. Working in the field of human trafficking can be emotional and daunting. Everyone has days where they want to quit. It is vital in this field that each person makes boundaries in order to avoid burn out. This is my boundary. I try to avoid movies on the topic of human trafficking because for me they are too emotionally draining and it threatens my ability to work effectively in the field.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:35 PM

    "Trade", 2007.

    Based on Peter Landesman's 25 January 2004 New York Times Magazine cover story about sex slaves.

    so odd, you don't even talk about it...