U.N. Embraces ‘Sold’ As Way to Fight Trafficking With Art

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Credit: Courtesy Roco Films

Still from the movie "Sold."

(WOMENSENEWS)— On March 23, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime held a conference on the role of the arts in ending human trafficking as one of the final side events to this year’s Commission on the Status of Women.

The packed-to-capacity event, filled with diplomats and artists, was timed to stoke interest in the movie "Sold" as a way of aiding the U.N.’s goal of ending human trafficking by 2030.

The event certainly had the desired effect on me. It provided a powerful reminder of how the movies you choose to see and support – by recommending and sharing with friends, family and, especially, kids – can support global shifts in awareness.

"Sold" was released in 2014 and has had some U.S. screenings, but it opens theatrically in the U.S. starting on April 1 in New York, and rolls out to other cities through May.

Because of its singular and intimate story, "Sold" humanizes the swarm of statistics surrounding this pandemic crime and is a compelling call to activism.

The film focuses on Nepal and India, but the problem is certainly in the U.S., including New York City, where pockets of sex slavery and forced labor exist right in the shadow of the U.N. where the conference about the film was held.

If "Sold " isn’t being shown in a theater near you, reach out to the filmmakers to see if you can help them organize a screening in your community.

Based on Patricia McCormick’s eponymous truth-based book about the forced prostitution of young girls in Nepal and India, "Sold" focuses on the story of Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia), a cheerfully naïve kite-flying kid in Nepal.

Her life shifts from bliss to hell when her alcoholic father sells her to respectable-looking woman who promises to train her to be a maid in a wealthy home in India. Instead, Lakshmi is transported directly to a Calcutta brothel where she is imprisoned, drugged and beaten, and forced to smile while she’s repeatedly raped. At age 13.

The film, which took almost a decade to complete, is harrowing. But I hope you will watch it and join the pushback.

March 25 Openers

The theme of teen trafficking continues in "Spirits’ Homecoming," which opens this week. Cho Jung Rae’s affecting war drama is about two Korean teenagers who were kidnapped by the Japanese Army during World War II and transported to a Japanese army comfort station in China, where they were forced to become "comfort women" — translate that as sexual slaves – for Japanese soldiers. The film was inspired by the testimony of Kang Il-Chul, one of the Korean women who survived the comfort stations and came forward to tell her story. In Korean, with English subtitles. In limited release.

"Angels in Exile" is a prime example of the interplay of art and activism. While Billy Raffery was on a surfing trip to South Africa in 2003, he happened upon Durban’s Point Road, inhabited by thousands of hopeless street kids. Rafferty decided he had to do something to help, which included making this documentary over a 10-year period. Charlize Theron narrates "Angels in Exile," as the film follows one child who fled an abusive step-grandfather and another who was raped by her stepfather and is HIV-positive. An outreach organization, Umthombo, run by Tom and Mandi Hewitt, and made up of former street kids, provides some relief from the treacheries of street life. Raffery also established a nonprofit to fund the documentary and to find ways to support the kids. See the film, and find ways to help.

"Killing Ed," a documentary by filmmaker Mark Hall, also shows reason for great concern about the future of kids, this time in our own country. It focuses on publicly funded charter schools operated by the Gulen Movement, a Turkey-based Islamic religious organization with widespread political and cultural influence. Gulen schools are academically sound, but they are tied to a movement accused of corruption and anti-democratic political motives. Gulen schools are across the U.S., but this extremely informative documentary investigation takes place primarily in Texas, home to America’s largest charter school network operated by Gulen.

Two sports docs offer adventure and inspiration. "Brave New Wild" is filmmaker Oakley Anderson-Moore’s very entertaining and somewhat irreverent look at rock climbing in the American west during the 1950s and 60s, when the legendary Warren Harding, Royal Robbins and Tom Frost, among others, were scaling the walls of Yosemite Valley. Anderson-Moore is herself a rock climber, and knowledgeable about the sport. She uses archive footage to bring you up to speed on the sport. Lots of fun and adventure.

Two excellent biopics about male musicians feature wonderful performances by actresses who play women in their complicated, self-destructive lives. "I Saw the Light" profiles the life and work of country-western singer Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston), who left a great musical legacy when he died at age 30. Elizabeth Olsen is superb as his first wife, Audrey. In "Born To Be Blue," Carmen Ojogo does a great job as mate to Ethan Hawke’s superb portrayal of troubled jazz great Chet Baker. Both films are must-sees for music lovers.

"Seve the Movie," which opened on March 24, follows the remarkable career of charismatic golfer Seve Ballesteros who knew from the time he was a wee lad that he would become a champion player and prevailed in the face of poverty and other adversity.

"Avril and the Extraordinary World" is this week’s lighter, charming fare. It is a girl-centric made-for-adults sci-fi animated adventure based on the work of French graphic novelist extraordinaire Jacques Tardi. The film is set in a fanciful and beleaguered France in 1941. Imagination and scientific invention are being stifled. Avril (voiced by Marion Cotillard) is a young woman who sets out to find her parents, a pair of leading scientists who’ve suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, along with many of their peers. The film offers a wonderful mix of mystery, romance, sci-fi adventure and great graphics. Along with Marion Cotillard, it’s a must see. Natch.

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is written by Nia Vardalos and stars her once again as Toula. In this second coming of the original MBFGW Toula’s parents discover that their marriage certificate was never signed and, thus, they’ve been living in sin for dozens of years. So there has to be a wedding. But there are interpersonal complications. The plot is quite slight and always predictable. The dialog is a constant flow of unfunny Greek ethnic jokes delivered in cutesy line readings by mugging actors. Arkteka (the Greek word for enough) already! Stay away, and help prevent MBFGW3.

"Miss India America" is another femme-centric ethnic comedy. This one makes fun of the cultural quirks of the Indian community living in the U.S., more specifically in Cerritos, California. Lily Prasad (Tiya Sircar) has the perfect teenage life. She’s class valedictorian, headed for Harvard and on track for success in life. She’s pretty, too, and used to winning. And she’s completely flabbergasted when her boyfriend dumps her for an airhead beauty queen. Lily decides to compete in a beauty pageant to get her beau back. That’s the premise. Put it in an Indian cultural context and watch it strive to sizzle. Directed by Ravi Kapoor, who also co-wrote the script with his wife, Meera Simhan, who also plays Lily’s mom.

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