Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Movie review: Caged No More

In the developing world, young girls aren’t safe. About 3,300 are sold each day in human trafficking rings. The sex slave trade touches every state in the US, as Lisa Arnold, director and co-writer of the new docudrama Caged No More tells us, both through her fictional account of two teenage sisters from Louisiana who are sold at an auction in Greece and through a brief celebrity-laden lecture.

The movie opens with a scene of domestic violence: Jack (Kevin Sorbo) beats his wife with a shovel, and Aggie (Loretta Devine) rushes to her rescue. Another incident involving a possible drug overdose follows immediately, resulting in the wife’s death and what is an implausible conversation between two police officers who never fully investigate the death. Editing is generally poor in the first half hour of the 90-minute film, jumbling the movie’s timeline with flashbacks and present-day dreams.

But what’s the loss of one life in a drug overdose compared to the other crimes Jack has committed? Those crimes involve selling his daughters into slavery in Greece to pay his drug debts. Viewers get a preview of these crimes when Aggie is told to check out his laptop and get back what he stole. She promises to do that and not bring the matter to the attention of the police. Meanwhile, Jack has taken his daughter Elle (Abigail Duhon) on a trip, ostensibly to visit his other daughter, Skye (Cassidy Gifford), overseas.

He has forged emails from Skye to Elle and Abbie to convince them she’s studying at a school in England. She’s actually imprisoned in a Greek brothel, being forced to have sex with more than a dozen men a day behind a padlocked door and being dished an occasional dirty tray of food suitable for, maybe, a dog. In another movie-making faux pas, Mr Sorbo plays both Jack and his brother, leaving doubt as to whether he’s a twin or simply leading a dual life, his simultaneous presence in Greece and Louisiana being nothing more than another editing mistake.

Using stilted and obviously unrehearsed and unpolished dialog between characters and “The Lord didn’t bring me this far to send me home empty-handed” pronouncements throughout, the film sheds no light on the epidemic of human trafficking. It does, however, paint a picture, one that agrees reasonably well with established news sources, of the horrors of girls who are sold into sex slavery and the courageous and often dangerous attempts by people in the US and in Greece to set them free.

However, glossing over the drug overdose—which was caused (I think but don’t know because of faulty editing) by Jack’s abduction of the two girls—leaves us caring less for the victims. That sin on the part of filmmakers is inexcusable enough. But on top of that, the inclusion of characters of questionable reputation as lecturers at the end, including Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Lousiana Gov Bobby Jindal, further compromises the integrity of the message, which is too important to dismiss with these characters in the hands of amateurish filmmakers.

I question Mr Hannity’s reputation, knowing he claimed in 2009 that White House science and technology adviser John Holdren “advocated compulsory abortion” and sterilization. What Mr Holdren wrote in a textbook several years earlier is that since the population explosion was causing a problem, certain methods of controlling the population, including voluntary and compulsory ones, “deserve discussion, mainly because some countries may ultimately have to resort to them unless current trends in birth rates are rapidly reversed by other means.” That is not an advocacy position. Are the TV star’s pleadings here similarly tainted with falsehoods?

Mr Hannity has also, repeatedly, denied or cast doubt on the existence of climate change. Simply put, we want people who believe climate change is happening—the vast majority of people on Earth—to work to end human trafficking as much as we want those who don’t believe climate change is happening. By bringing in Mr Hannity, an angry and polarizing figure, the film alienates a good chunk of its potential audience. Based on Mr Hannity’s cameo, we ask, Does the movie intentionally avert our gaze away from the drug overdose and the incompetence of our police departments to conduct a thorough investigation as Mr Hannity has tried to avert our gaze away from climate change? Even if the movie doesn’t make us think the wool’s being pulled over our eyes on purpose, that’s the net effect of including Mr Hannity.

As for Mr Jindal, he has occasionally demanded that Republicans stop being the “stupid” party. But the Brown University-trained biologist has also hinted at a leaning toward creationism in his state’s public schools.

“The reality is I’m not an evolutionary biologist,” he was quoted as saying a year and a half ago on Talking Points, refusing to say if he subscribes to evolution as a theory. “I told you what I think. I think that local school districts, not the federal government, should make the decision about how they teach science, biology, economics. I want my kids to be taught about evolution; I want my kids to be taught about other theories.”

The film would be much more credible and effective if a sitting governor, a biologist and public policy expert by training, hadn’t previously left open the possibility that local school districts could decide to teach kids theories in science that have nothing to do with science.

That kind of thinking about kids in Louisiana is delusional, so on the basis of that reputation, we wonder, Are his comments on human trafficking delusional as well? To think so, I realize, is an ad hominem attack, but in the movie, these characters play themselves as their real-world personas. Their importance to the documentary depends on their public persona, a fact that makes their reputations fair game in a review of the movie. In other words, I’m not saying they’re right or wrong, just that their presence in a movie weakens the message.

Of course, the story in Caged No More is fictional, but the human trafficking part is far from delusional by any definition of the word. The action could easily be based upon real and well documented events. The surrounding elements of the story and the storytelling, however, make the movie ineffective in its advocacy for the victims of these horrible crimes, who need more from our arts community.

On limited release in the US, January 22, 2016, Caged No More is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content and some violence. It deals with humans being sold into slavery, prostitution, domestic violence, and deplorable scenes with a father and his daughters. Ms Arnold co-wrote the film with Molly Venzke, and the film was edited by Florent Retz. We saw it in Grandville, Michigan.

We review movies in order to support Illinois Learning Standards in the fine arts, especially 26.A.4b (Understand how the primary tools, support tools and creative processes—researching, auditioning, designing, directing, rehearsing, refining, presenting—interact and shape drama, theater and film production), 26.A.5 (Analyze and evaluate how the choice of media, tools, technologies and processes support and influence the communication of ideas), and 27.B.5 (Analyze how the arts shape and reflect ideas, issues or themes in a particular culture or historical period), among others.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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