My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Trade: Brilliant film about sex trafficking

Unrelated to my research, I recently met a teen activist from a local high school. She runs a student group called “Students Against Human Trafficking.” Tonight, her group put together a screening of the 2007 film Trade at a local movie theater, followed by a discussion with the producer.

Now, I watch a lot of film and I pay attention to what’s coming out that deals with serious matters, but I was completely unaware of this film. And yet, it was stunning. Heartbreaking, moving, jawdropping. Unfortunately, the film was only released in 25 cities, was not advertised, and was pulled two weeks after release so most people who should see it didn’t. Gosh darn it, I hate when the studios get cagey about serious films and fail to actually promote them like they should. Anyhow, the film is now on DVD and I want to encourage everyone to see it. It’s haunting, but definitely worth it. And it will definitely make you think.

“Trade” depicts the global dynamic of sex trafficking, focusing on the role that American demand plays in the perpetuation of this insidious business. The film centers on the story of a young Mexican boy who is on the edge of becoming a thug himself when his younger sister is abducted and trafficked, eventually to be sold through an Internet sex slave auction. Through luck, he ends up running into a cop (Kevin Kline) who is trying to make sense of this business and reluctantly agrees to help him find his sister. Weaving together the stories of people who are abducted or experience the emotional devastation of sex trafficking, this film is a brilliant although disturbing portrait of a real life criminal business. An absolutely must-see. Haunting, yet important.

If you’d prefer a more serious approach to this horrific topic, I also recommend checking out the PBS documentary on Lives For Sale. (My cousin-in-law was involved in the production of this piece.) This film steps back to think about the dark side of illegal immigration and the black market trade in human beings.

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8 comments to Trade: Brilliant film about sex trafficking

  • I haven’t seen Trade, but a film about the same subject which haunted me is Lilya 4-Ever by Swedish director Lukas Moodyson.
    It’s based around an Estonian girl, and takes quite an emotional commitment to make it through to the end…

  • I has a different cover, but it’s available on Netflix to those who want to add it to their queue. I did and we’ll see how I react when it comes next week. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Simon Garcia

    It’s a really good movie.

  • also added to my netflix queue. thx for the heads up.

  • I’m a big fan of movies, all genres or mostly all genres, tho I have fallen out of my usual movie going and renting habits of late. But I made a special trip to Blockbuster this weekend after reading your review. A powerful movie. Though perhaps most of us rarely find ourselves in situations where the stakes are so high, it shows us how murky the waters of personal and societal ethics can be. The things we do without thinking of their consequences until they touch us. The commoditization of sex as the con to hustle a man, then to have a loved one fall victim to trafficking. The justice system’s tenuous balance between the greater good and a sole victim. Ethical and moral beliefs are always in flux. We think we’re done when we draw our lines in the sand, but forget, or perhaps consciously neglect, the grains that are so frequently displaced by the wind.

    Thank you for the recommendation.

  • I wonder if this movie was released here in the philippines? I think it’s a must see for us filipinos or for any other country belonging to the ‘third world’, considering that trafficking is quite rampant in these parts of the world.

  • Badger,

    Thanks for mentioning Lilya 4-Ever by Swedish director Lukas Moodyson. Scenes from that movie keep coming back to me. Its long, slow and somber. In the early scenes, when the teen girl’s mother dies and her ‘aunt’ makes her move out of the the family apt into a kind of abandoned squatters place, you don’t have any idea where she’ll end up. We get to see her barely getting by as if she’s still a teen living with her family; she dresses up to go out with her girlfriends and so on. When she meets her seducer who buys her a meal and apparently doesn’t even want to have sex with her; you only know where this is going if you know some of the common sex trafficking scenarios. He asks her to marry him and gets her passport and puts her on a plane… But even then you don’t know that she’ll eventually, in the last quarter of the film, be a sex trafficking victim, throwing herself off a bridge in Sweden, where she’s finally found be some sincere do-gooders at last; but found dead.

    Our society has got to start debating modern slavery as vociferously as we did 150 years ago when everyone debated slavery and it was a prominent part of the debate over national elections.

  • Celestea

    i have just seen this movie.My jadedness set aside,I have has become truly shocked speechless… will use it and this site to promote the anti-slavery cause.this government spends billions on chasing down marijuana,and jet set baby rape gangs are ignored….?! i am writing this years after the rest of these entries on this blog…after the Penn state pedophile scandal broke…the american public has softened seven more toward this subject,especially because persons of color are involved,and the poor.it is common to read the opinions of the bigoted ridiculing innocents like these on media all over the internet. and accepting in stride Despicable. i would to God wish hell on the comfortable and smug knowing this.
    i would to God that he would dam those in positions of government that do NOTHING for the helpless and milk the tax-base for all sort of gain instead.May God help these poor exploited innocents and deliver the poor from the perverse privileged and selfish.