Human Trafficking and Film: How Popular Portrayals Influence Law and Public Perception
25 PagesPosted: 25 Nov 2015Last revised: 16 Dec 2015
Date Written: November 20, 2015
Popular portrayals of human trafficking matter. They shape the prevailing understanding of the issue, which in turn influences the law and policy developed to address human trafficking. This essay examines the interplay between law and culture, specifically cinematic expressions. It reviews three well-known films on human trafficking and explores some of the key misconceptions in each movie. The essay then shows how these misconceptions are prevalent in many law and policy responses to human trafficking. Finally, the author suggests how scholars and advocates might respond more effectively to cinematic (and other media) portrayals of human trafficking.
Keywords: Human trafficking, law, culture, media
JEL Classification: J4, K14, K31, K42, O10
Suggested Citation:Suggested Citation
Todres, Jonathan, Human Trafficking and Film: How Popular Portrayals Influence Law and Public Perception (November 20, 2015). Cornell Law Review Online, Vol. 101, pp 1-24 2015; Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-33. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2693742
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If you’ve ever visited a Caribbean island and been discomfited by the social divisions between visitors and the local population, you’ll relate to much in Logan Sandler’s “Live Cargo.” The movie, shot in the Bahamas, where Mr. Sandler spent some of his teenage years, captures the grittier, lesser-seen corners of a tourist destination.
Two narratives run side by side: One concerns a couple — Nadine (Dree Hemingway of “Starlet”) and Lewis (Lakeith Stanfield from “Atlanta” and “Get Out”) — trying to stay together after an incalculable loss; the other follows a mayor, Roy (Robert Wisdom of “The Wire”), as he protects an aimless youth, Myron (Sam Dillon), from recruitment by a human trafficker, Doughboy (Leonard Earl Howze).
Despite its tantalizing plot elements, this is a story woefully short on specifics. (The script is by Mr. Sandler, in his feature debut, and one of the film’s producers, Thymaya Payne.) But the talented actors give their all. Nadine and Lewis, visiting a home owned by Nadine’s family, share intimate moments and minimal, frustratingly simple conversations seemingly intended to evoke an Antonioni film. Mr. Wisdom and Mr. Howze exude vivid conviction, with Mr. Howze’s character given rounded dimensions usually denied an antagonist. Mr. Dillon, however, struggles with the underwritten Myron.
Absolutely breathtaking black-and-white neo-noir cinematography by Daniella Nowitz adds depth and emotional context. But it can’t fully flesh out the story, which reaches its climax with a storm and the discovery of a vessel of dead and dying emigrants. We are largely left with the images, which take us far, if not far enough.
WritersThymaya Payne, Logan Sandler
StarsDree Hemingway, Lakeith Stanfield, Robert Wisdom, Sam Dillon, Leonard Earl Howze
Running Time1h 28m
- Movie data powered by IMDb.com
Last updated: Nov 2, 2017