|Index||6 reviews in total|
I saw a special screening in Greenwich Village last night and the whole
crowd was gasping, crying and laughing together. It's truly a tour de
force, and you fall in love with these girls as they talk about their
hopes, their painful experiences and the surprising, frightening truth
about teenage prostitution in America. Highly recommended. You might
think a movie like this would be a drag, but it's not--it's
surprisingly entertaining, and really a fascinating, wonderful
"Issue" documentaries carry the danger of being too focused on polemics and not enough on the people involved or the cinematic experience. The filmmakers avoid this nicely by focusing on the girls themselves, following their ups and downs and giving them the chance to express their contradictions. This is especially effective, I thought, in a sequence when one girl cannot help but call her pimp and tell him she loves him.
I attended the press screening for 'Very Young Girls' in New York City
... where this documentary was filmed, although it addresses a problem
hardly unique to that city: child prostitution. According to a
statement at the start of this film, the AVERAGE age when children
enter prostitution is 13 ... which means that half of them are younger!
Two punks named Anthony and Chris Griffith (bruthahs from "the hood") decided to get rich by forcing very young girls to streetwalk for them, and also shooting home-movie footage of the girls plying this trade. The Griffiths planned to increase their wealth and fame by creating a cable-TV programme based on this footage. While holding my nose, I must endorse one aspect of this scheme: I have no doubt that the cable-TV companies would eagerly beat a path to the Griffiths' address. Fortunately, their current address is a prison. (More about this later.) Some of their video footage shows up in this documentary: grinning smugly, the Griffiths cheerfully admit that they consider the girls to be mere merchandise, the property of the Griffiths as pimps.
The girls seen here are all New York City teens, some of them VERY young teens, and most of them African-American. Although they all fell into the Griffiths' clutches, they also had the good luck to cross paths with Rachel Lloyd, founder of Girls' Educational and Mentoring Services (and also co-exec producer of this documentary). GEMS are an outreach group dedicated to rescuing young women from the sex industry, and stabilising their lives.
We meet individual girls, telling their stories before, during and after prostitution. It's no surprise that some of them had absent or abusive fathers: often, the leering attention they received from the Griffiths was the nearest they'd ever experienced to male affection. The Griffiths bait their trap with sweet talk and presents, getting the girls hooked on drugs (and therefore dependent), then terrorising them to make sure they obey.
We see a brief clip of a 'john class'. Men arrested for patronising prostitutes in New York City, if they have no previous record, have the opportunity to clean their records if they attend a lecture on the dangers of prostitution. The johns we see here are clearly merely going through the motions: one man arrogantly asks when they can take a break. Two of the men seen here wear Jewish regalia (one Hasidic), and I'm sure there are a few church-going Christians in the pew, too. Pyew!
As the former prostitutes regain their humanity, they also discover their individuality. One GEMS alumna gets an office job, another becomes a GEMS counsellor. Another one gets married in a Pentecostal wedding. Sadly, at least one goes back to her old tricks. Another vanishes without a trace.
I found most of this movie chillingly realistic. Only one sequence seemed staged: a mother has spent months trying to locate her teen daughter, without a single clue; the documentary camera is conveniently present when she finally gets the crucial phone call.
The image and sound editing are inconsistent: some curse words are bleeped, others left audible. Some people's faces are digitally blurred in odd ways (noses and mouths obscured but eyes intact), and the people so favoured aren't always the ones you'd expect: why is a bailiff in a court case blurred out, since he's doing his honest job efficiently, and he has no reason to conceal his identity? Due to poor audio recording (especially in the Griffiths' footage) and the terrible diction of many participants, several sequences are given much-needed subtitles ... but other sequences need this device yet don't receive it. Speaking of diction: Rachel Lloyd (a British-born survivor of sexual abuse in her teen years) is a charismatic advocate for her cause, but she has one of the most bizarre speech patterns I've ever encountered ... a prole Noo Yawk accent interlaced with London working-class inflexions. Here, we see her graciously accepting an award on behalf of GEMS while denouncing the industry that gave an Academy Award to the song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp". Elsewhere, Ms Young points out a cruel irony: these girls are below the age of consent and therefore cannot legally agree to have sexual intercourse, yet they are arrested for prostitution.
The Griffiths were ultimately convicted, and their own amateur footage was used as evidence against them. Yet, oddly, they were only nicked on a variant of the Mann Act, for transporting a prostitute across state lines. This is something I've never understood about U.S. law: why is a felony across state lines considered so much worse than a felony that stays put?
With this movie's title and subject matter, some people will want to see 'Very Young Girls' for prurient reasons. As far as that goes, there are only a few brief shots on offer here of streetwalkers, faces obscured, in the early stages of negotiation with customers. I would describe 'Very Young Girls' as honest, except for one strange omission: nowhere in this documentary is there any mention of Aids or other sexually-transmitted diseases. As a crudely-made but sincere documentary that addresses a real problem, I'll rate 'Very Young Girls' 7 out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Whoever commented that this movie wasn't a drag must have a heart made of stone. It has been three days since I watched this movie and I have not been able to purge the images of these 'very young girls' from my mind. The room full of cocky, ignorant, "johns", who receive a slap on the wrist for engaging in sex with minors, the girls being pressured to slap one another as punishment, a stream of old men filtering in and out of a motel room where a underage girl is enduring god knows what, stories of gang rape and torment, it is heinous and it is real. Men who brainwash young girls, then emotionally and physically abuse them. Yes, there are some happy endings, but the end does not justify the means. The only thing I can keep telling myself is that what ever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so hopefully some strong, unstoppable, fearless women will be born of these horrible experiences, but it is not enough. Child exploitation and human trafficking are sick and sad epidemics in our country and world wide and they must be addressed. So watch this movie, hopefully it will sink in, hopefully you can expose yourself to the gritty reality of other people's lives.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a really good documentary about girls who start out as prostitutes at a really young age. The documentary said the most prostitutes start out at the age of thirteen. That was the average age of when they started. I didn't know that so I learned something and I also learned that people do get help and can become a better person. I really felt for some of the girls because they didn't know any better and plus they were brainwashed by the pimp. It's just a sad reality that goes on every single day in the world. The good thing is that at least some of the girls who went for help actually got out of it and are turning their lives around. Then there are other girls who aren't as lucky. I wouldn't suggest watching "Pretty Woman" because it doesn't have anything to do with reality. I would suggest watching this movie instead because it is real life.
You won't waste your time watching it, especially if you are watching
it on TV and you are able to do other stuff while it is on. It does a
decent profile of GEMS. It gives us an idea of how messed up our court
system is when they convict underage hookers instead of treating them
as victims of sexual abuse. But no interviews with prosecutors or
legislators of why this is so.
The documentary should have been titled GEMS because it really offers no fresh insight into why these girls turn away from their families in the first place? Yeah, we know the father figure aspect of these pimps attracts them to the profession in the first place. But why were they for the taking? No real insightful interviews with the mothers of these kids were done.
It would have been nice to have seen what it took for Rachel Lloyd to set up her non profit to give us an idea why more of these non profits do not exist.
There was one girl who expressed an interest in becoming an archaeologist, travel to England. The doc really dropped the ball in explaining why someone like this, with good grades, would even be in the position of being approached by a pimp and why she was so quick to fall for his persuasive powers.
It should have been a 45 min to one hour doc at most profiling GEMS.
This is in response to the previous review made about this film. Okay,
I can see that you had difficulties from a technical perspective, but
to finish your review with a question asking why there was no coverage
about AIDS, reveals your ignorance and prejudice against sex workers.
This is a documentary about young girls who are coerced into the sex
trade, and although AIDS is an issue, it is just as much of an issue
for any other person out there who is having sex with multiple
Would not a scene about AIDS be just as "staged" as you say the scene with the mother who got the phone call was?
Who are you to criticize a film that is trying to raise awareness about a critical issue in society? Much less a film that sensitively reveals a harsh predicament that most people could never understand or fully empathize with.
It seems like some people never learn no matter how many documentaries they see...
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