Almanac Film Review: SOLD
Oscar-winning director, Jeffrey D Brown, has described it as “a horrific crime”. Acclaimed actress Gillian Anderson went further and spoke about it as “an abomination of humanity”.
But these renowned figures haven’t merely expressed outrage at the fact that in 2017, more than 45 million people, and many of them children, are living as slaves across Asia, Africa, South America and other parts of the world.
Instead, they poured their hearts into creating a film called SOLD which highlights some of the appalling realities of life for so many individuals throughout the globe. And it isn’t an issue which is even close to being addressed.
On the contrary, according to the International Labour Organisation, nearly 21 million people are victims of human trafficking and, at the moment, an estimated 1.8 million children are being sold into the sex trade every year.
These statistics, which have been collated by the campaign group TaughtNotTrafficked are sufficient to chill the blood.
Approximately 80% of all the victims worldwide are girls, and it has been estimated human trafficking between India and Nepal has increased by 300% since grievous earthquakes struck the latter region in 2015.
And yet, despite the misery, degradation and despair of those who are being dragged down into the morass, there is so little international action by governments it’s as if they regard it as being beyond their power to prevent the escalation of an industry which generates a mind-boggling £100bn in illegal profits every year.
That helps explain why SOLD is such an important film venture and why the producers are determined to spread the message.
It also highlights why Jeffrey D Brown, Gillian Anderson and the actress-director Emma Thompson have joined forces to tackle a genuine modern-day evil and do so head-on.
As Brown, who won an Academy Award for the short film Molly’s Pilgrim in 1986, said: “We want to use SOLD as a tool for change. Only an estimated 8% of the UK population truly understand the scale of the slavery.
“How can we work to prevent children from being trafficked if so many people are unaware of the whole issue?
“By showing SOLD in cities throughout Britain and elsewhere, we are ensuring as many people as possible are made aware of this horrific crime and maybe then we can tackle its root causes.”
“This is not just a film, it’s a campaign. It is designed to be a vehicle of change. And it is a film that will engage people to become part of the solution.”
Sometimes, these projects fall short because the writers sugar-coat their scripts or provide the audience with a pat resolution which suggests the malaise can be tackled with a few inspiring speeches.
But nobody involved in this new venture can remotely be accused of Tinseltown sentimentality.
Instead, the producers have gone for a cinema-verite approach. The film starts with a young girl, Lakshmi, leaving her home in a quiet village in the Nepali Himalayas in the expectation of finding a job in the emerging Indian economy.
However, upon her arrival in Kolkata, she soon realises she has been trafficked into a prison brothel, where she has to struggle on a daily basis to survive without any dignity against near-impossible odds.
It’s here that a US photographer – played by Anderson – hears her stricken cries for help and enlists the help of a local official to spearhead a dangerous mission to rescue her. And thereafter, Lakshmi is forced to risk everything for freedom – not unlike many of the refugees who have made their way to Europe on a wing and a prayer and the flimsiest of boats – as the film develops both into a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a resounding clarion call for action.
It has certainly proved an eye-opener for Anderson, who was propelled to stardom in The X Files in the early 1990s, as the prelude to gaining critical plaudits in such diverse series as Bleak House and The Fall.
As for SOLD, her role was inspired by the experiences of real-life American photographer, Lisa Kristine, who established a reputation for documenting victims of slavery, who were ruthlessly trafficked into forced labour and sold for sex.
Gillian has clearly been affected by carrying out research and playing such a pivotal role. As she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “At certain points in one’s life, one realises there are issues which break your heart.
“I have been involved in many charities over the years, but the issue of trafficking, particularly child trafficking for sex, is such an abomination of humanity that I couldn’t not do something.
“It is the fastest-growing black market industry in the world at the moment. It is easier sometimes to traffic humans than traffic drugs.
“So the film is an entry point to the issue. By telling one girl’s story, it gives voice to the millions of children who are trafficked every year.”
Organisations such as TaughtNotTrafficked and Childreach International are conscious there are no quick fixes when it comes to tackling these global problems. With so much money at stake, and particularly in countries which have suffered the ravages of war or natural disasters, their emphasis lies in working at the grassroots and educating youngsters through long-term development initiatives.
Tiffany Watts, the executive director of Childreach has spent her career fighting for the rights, protection and empowerment of children, and that has taken her to such different parts of the world as Brazil and Nepal.
She explained: “Our goal is to stop trafficking before it begins by ensuring children are educated and in a safe space in school.
“Our work may be just a drop in the ocean, but through SOLD, we hope that our drop becomes a ripple and then a wave of change as others join us in the fight against trafficking.”
In countries such as Nepal, the remedial work has been both tangible and impressive. In less than two years, scores of classrooms have been reopened, which have allowed more than 2,000 children to return to school.
A special sports initiative has been created, which uses football to challenge discriminatory attitudes against girls and nurture a positive environment for youngsters to discuss issues which are facing them in their local communities – such as trafficking and early marriage.
Childreach also provides teacher training to improve school governance and actively encourages survivors of trafficking to tell their stories and warn others about the problem and how to avoid being ensnared in the web.
SOLD had the vision to bring all these disparate strands together, not least because of the passionate commitment of those who made it.
For her part, Anderson has made no bones about her desire to keep chipping away at the ignorance which surrounds human trafficking and her track record suggests she won’t be deterred by political apathy.
In the past, she worked on a fictional programme whose tagline was “The Truth is Out There”. And now, the 48-year-old actress is determined to be a vocal campaigner, even if the truth happens to be inconvenient for many politicians.
As she said: “Funds and action and time and resources and a different structuring of policy – a lot has to happen in order for this to change.
“But it affects all of us, even though we might not realise it. It is in every city, in every country….and we need to start the conversation about what we can do to make changes.”
Many people would prefer to shy away from uncomfortable exposes of the world’s underbelly. That is understandable, but there is something wicked about the fashion in which trafficking has become a 21st-century blight on the innocent.
That’s a situation which SOLD is determined to transform.