The makers of Trafficked walk a fine line, embedding their advocacy in an action film and conveying the horror of sexual slavery without edging into exploitation. Director Will Wallace (Red Wing) achieves this balance by emphasizing the inner lives of enslaved women even as the men who peddle them see them as meat.
Trafficked isn’t subtle: a discussion of women’s bodies as marketable flesh takes place in an abattoir while butchers carve animal carcasses. Screenwriter Siddharth Kara is more interested in exposing the global enterprise that exploits vulnerable teenagers and women than in creating nuanced characters, and uses details from his 2009 nonfiction book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, to create representative predators and victims.
Young Nigerian mother Mali (Jessica Obilom) takes the migrant route to Europe, hoping to send wages back to her family. A daughter of an affluent Indian family, Amba (Alpa Banker) is planning to attend MIT when she’s kidnapped by a scorned suitor. Aging out of foster care, Sara (Kelly Washington) leaves a younger sister with the nun (Anne Archer) who cared for them and is sold to a cartel by her trusted social worker (Ashley Judd).
Kara adds more deal-making specifics when the trio arrives at the Texas brothel owned by a corrupt politician (Patrick Duffy) and run by a rancher (Sean Patrick Flanery), who masks slavery as indentured servitude. With less cursing and nudity than basic cable, Trafficked still manages to illustrate the sexual, physical, and mental abuse that human traffickers inflict on victims to make them feel less than human.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on October 6, 2017 by Epic Pictures
First published in The Village Voice, 2017.