Human trafficking is such an antiseptic term. It intellectualizes and softens something that is absolutely horrific. It's the type of term that lives in the world of academia and statistics. There's no emotional impact, no default outrage, no real teeth to it. I prefer to call it what it is, slavery. At this moment it is estimated that up to 4 million people internationally and up to 50,000 people domestically are held by human trafficking rings.
To put a finer point on it there are, at this moment, 50,000 people owned as slaves in the United States. Not historically, not descendants of freed slaves, but actual living breathing human beings living as slaves right now. This is not just a forced labor situation either; we are talking about forced prostitution.
Some are sold by their parents, some are recruited into domestic service jobs only to find out when they are in another country with no ability to leave what the job really is, and other are taken right off the streets in the US and forced into it.
A majority are women and almost all are under 18.
These numbers are jarring, alarming, and disgusting and nowhere near enough people are aware of them.
Eden is the true story of Chong Kim, a Korean American woman who, at the age of 19, went to a bar with a fake ID, had a drink with a very nice fireman who offered her a ride home. He pulled over to make a phone call and by the time she realized that something was wrong it was too late. She woke up in the trunk of a car and began a harrowing two year long nightmare of isolation, forced prostitution, and every type of abuse and degradation you can imagine. This is not an easy or comfortable film to watch, but it is about something so very important that I believe it needs to be seen. Much like Damian Harris's "Gardens of the Night," which follows the younger spectrum of this abhorrent practice, it sheds light on a world so blackly dark and hidden from view that most people don't know that it exists.
Unlike "Gardens," which shows a world so vile and reprehensible that it exists entirely behind the curtains and closed doors, "Eden," shows a normalized and, in some ways, accepted trade. It's in the shadows, yes, but it is still in the light. The people who trade in it are somewhat open about it. There are parties with men in suits, fraternity parties, and underground S&M clubs where this type of traffic is a normal part of business. It's an entirely corrupt world where even the law cannot be trusted.
Director Megan Griffiths does an outstanding job of finding the small pieces of humanity in a dehumanized world and contrasts them with the inherent brutality of the situation. Her direction is unflinching but not exploitative, honest but never preachy, and powerful without being manipulative.
The performances are phenomenal across the board but the film is moored by two standouts. Jamie Chung creates a heartbreakingly real woman whose sweetness and innocence are stripped away. Matt O'Leary gives an amazingly nuanced performance as Eden's crack smoking handler. He is hateful and repellent, but is also very real.
This is a rare film in that it has changed the way I look at certain things. You hear terms like "human trafficking," and "forced prostitution," and are justifiably horrified, but they are just abstract concepts. Seeing the reality of women forced to live in dark storage lockers, four to a room on bunk beds, and knowing that it is happening now, in my country both horrified and sickened me. Suddenly, these concepts were no longer concepts, but living breathing facts.
In a world where millionaire athletes and musicians throw the world slave around it is fairly sobering to have the reality of it shown so plainly.
I rarely use the term "important," to describe films as even the most "important" films rarely are. Usually it really means "self important." This film however deals with an issue most of us would rather pretend doesn't exist, but that is far more important than can be expressed.
"Eden" shows evil in its truest form. The evil that allows people to profit from suffering, the evil that exists when good people don't stand up for what is decent, the evil that exists in a world where girls (and let's be clear they are GIRLS) can be treated as disposable property.
Very Young Girls- Documentary about teenage girls forced into prostitution.
Gardens of the Nigh- Fiction film about a girl kidnapped into the world of child sex trade.
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