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

One thought on “Trafficking in Motion Pictures: Help or Hindrance?

  1. Good and thoughtful article!!

    Although I agree that these Hollywood versions of human trafficking are not accurate and could make a better effort to portray human trafficking accurately, there wasn’t something on the movie that said everything in it is accurate. Because it’s fiction rather than non-fiction, there are going to be made-up things throughout the film in the story. It’s the natural of something being fiction, and especially of a story in film (where “film magic” explains away many non-realistic elements).

    And the very fact that the situations surrounding Taken are not typical of a trafficked victim is expected. In film, as in anything that is a form of storytelling including in journalism, most people focus on what is unusual, weird, funny, horrific, bizarre, and so on. Most of the time in American mainstream media, what makes a story is not the normal, but the abnormal. And just because it shows one instance of human trafficking doesn’t mean that the filmmakers believe this is how it is for all trafficked victims. It would be impossible to show all of the possibilities of human trafficking in one cohesive story line. What the filmmakers had to do was hone in on one story and tell that one story.

    Also, logistically speaking, other films have already been made about general human trafficking, and barely anybody will greenlight a film that’s already been done.

    Unless of course the filmmakers said they wanted this story to be a realistic portrayal of human trafficking and spread awareness. Then it would be right to call them out on inaccuracies. I’m not aware of them saying this, but maybe they did. But perhaps their goal with this film was not to spread awareness and portray human trafficking accurately.

    To me, this film does not seem to be about human trafficking. It seems to be more about father who will do everything within his power to rescue his daughter. That’s the premise. That’s the main storyline…all of the other details fill in to make the story fuller, but at the heart, it’s not about the details, but about this father’s protective love for his daughter. Human trafficking is the backdrop, if you will, to this story the filmmakers are trying to tell. The filmmakers could have made the kidnappers serial killers rather than traffickers, but that wouldn’t mean that the story is about serial killers. For example, Les Miserables features an escaped convict, but the actual story is not about convicts. That’s not the central focus. It’s about a man seeking redemption and wrestling with showing mercy, justice, and love appropriately.

    All that said, I do think that false ideas of human trafficking should be understood in the context of the truth about human trafficking so that we don’t misunderstand what human trafficking is. So this article was really great at showing what real human trafficking is like!


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