Trafficking in Motion Pictures: Help or Hindrance?

With Taken 2 just coming out in theaters, trafficking is being brought back into the mainstream conversation. While I’m not a movie critic, and have yet to see Taken 2, human trafficking’s eradication is something that is near and dear to my heart and when I see anything that is talking about it, it gets my attention.

In my opinion, movies are one of the most important tools that we have to help fight trafficking, because movies can make people aware of the problem. There’s no replacement for seeing something in person, but seeing a video of the life that trafficking victims face everyday can still be incredibly jarring. However, there are two different types of movies that exist: fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction movies like Frontline: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, Born Into Brothels or any number of National Geographic or CNN documentaries often at least provide a pretty accurate picture of a day in the life of a trafficking victim. The majority of these documentaries are centered around sex trafficking because, as I noted in a previous post, victims of labor trafficking or domestic servitude are incredibly difficult to spot and unfortunately, people being sold for sex just seems to create a more compelling story line  The other type of movies are the “Hollywood “blockbusters, like Taken. Now, I’ve seen this movie and despite enjoying the action packed scenes, I couldn’t help noticing how incredibly misleading the movie as a whole is. I think the best quality it has is that it has brought human trafficking into the mainstream media. On its opening weekend in America Taken grossed more than $24 million dollars. That’s a lot of movie tickets sold and a lot of people leaving the theater at least being aware that human trafficking exists, if they weren’t already. Unfortunately, a movie about Liam Neeson saving his daughter from being sold to an incredibly rich man, on a yacht, by a bunch of Albanian gangsters, for sex is nowhere close to the norm.  

The first thing that’s wrong with this movie is that it teaches viewers that traffickers are cute boys you meet while vacationing in Paris. Some traffickers might be cute guys who look for victims at the airport, but so often trafficking is done by someone that victim already knows, or had spent at least some time with. It also teaches that traffickers will go to these great lengths to target a victim, like targeting victims at their residence and conducting full scale extractions of the victims. Traffickers might sometimes use this extreme force, but more often they use psychological methods to take their victims. Coercion, manipulation, and threats are the more common tactics they employ. The worst thing it does though is make one of the girls who is kidnapped, the daughter of a former CIA agent. If every trafficking victim in the world had a CIA- trained parent, there would be far fewer victims in the world. Taken and other “hero” movies like it just make it look so easy to escape trafficking. Of course saving someone from a trafficker is easy when you’ve been trained by the CIA, have contacts all over the world, and seemingly unlimited funds.

For so many victims though, there is no one coming for them; there will never be anyone coming for them. I would be knocked over from shock if a movie was produced to be seen by the masses that actually accurately represented what trafficking of any kind is really about: pain, helplessness, and exploitation, not gunfights, Liam Neeson, and car chases.  


By: Danae Zimmer