Hollywood, Bollywood, and Everywhere in Between: The Commercialization of Girl Trafficking

Sex sells.

Child trafficking, however, is about much more than young girls being pushed into the sex trade against their will. Let’s face it, we live in a society enamored of sex and violence, so the story about the young girl who slaves away in a sweatshop making your organic cotton T-shirts just doesn’t have the same titillating effect or profit generating ability as the young girl put out on the streets to sell her barely pubescent body. Did you hear the collective corporate sigh of relief?

Take even a cursory look at child-trafficking films; the vast majority of them are about young girls sex-trafficked in countries where the people are overwhelmingly brown and poor.

We can break them down into 2 general categories:

1. Sexploitation

2. Great White Hope/Great White Redemption

Sexploitation? Yes, just as Blaxploitation films in the 70s were hailed as both a token of black empowerment by some and accused of perpetrating horrible stereotypes by others, so too, go child-trafficking films. In one fell swoop, the child sexploitation film condemns child trafficking, while making sure there’s just enough sex and violence involving girls-just-old-enough to make us squirm with a disturbing mixture of curiosity, arousal and disgust.

Scene from Olkin's 2003 film, Slave. IMDb http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2082510848/nm1167849

Stop for a moment and consider what the real victims of trafficking might think about these films, our curiosity and the ability of some Hollywood director to line his pockets with them. As we praise the cinematic achievements of some ‘daring’ director, actual survivors are violated once more by the watchful gaze of a mostly white audience that exclaims such meaningless platitudes as, “What wonderful acting!”

Next we have the Great White Hope/Redemption film. You’ve seen this ‘hero’ saving ‘others’—slaves, Chinese, Native Americans [insert victim here]. In the child-trafficking milieu, he appears in places like Russia/China/Malaysia/Thailand/[insert county here]. While in that other place, he discovers child trafficking (nearly always of a sexual nature), and embarks on a crusade to save her/him/them. Ultimately, he triumphs over evil/ignorant locals and/or the decaying remnants of colonial/imperial hangers-on.

Thankfully, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and metaphorically pat ourselves on the back for bearing witness. However, the story focuses on our hero—not the girls. They simply exist as the props and even the background for his superior morality. If they are lucky, just before the credits role, they are bundled off to Somebetterplace.

In reality, child trafficking effects girl and society all over the world. It has long and lasting consequences, is rarely wrapped up so neatly and is not exclusively a product of poverty. While you don’t hear about girls from Upper East Side trafficked into the sex trade, no one is exempt. Think about that the next time you buy your movie ticket and that extra large tub of popcorn.

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