On my visit to World Vision earlier this month, one of the employees I interviewed gave me a film to watch called HOLLY. To be honest, I always approach movies about sex trafficking with caution and some skepticism, because sometimes the film is either poorly made or demonstrates a very unrealistic and inaccurate picture of the issue. HOLLY, which highlights trafficking in Cambodia, was refreshing in this regard. The plot is introduced as follows:
Shot on location in Cambodia, including many scenes from actual brothels in the notorious red light district of Phnom Pehn, HOLLY is a captivating, touching, and emotional experience. Patrick (Ron Livingston), an American card shark and dealer of stolen artifacts, has been ‘comfortably numb’ in Cambodia for years, when he encounters Holly (Thuy Nguyen), a 12-year old Vietnamese girl, in the K11 red light village. The girl has been sold by her impoverished family and smuggled across the border to work as a prostitute.
Holly’s virginity makes her a lucrative prize, and when she is sold to a child trafficker, Patrick embarks on a frantic search through both the beautiful and sordid faces of the country, in an attempt to bring her to safety. Harsh yet poetic, this feature forms part of the ‘K-11’ project, dedicated to raising awareness of the epidemic of child trafficking and sex slavery through several film projects. The film’s producers endured substantial hardships in order to be able to shoot in Cambodia and have also founded the RedLight Children Campaign, which is a worldwide grassroots initiative generating conscious concern and inspiring immediate action against child exploitation.
I endured various emotions while watching this film – brokenness and anger being some. However the biggest feeling I experienced was frustration. Frustration that Holly is stubborn and ungrateful for help. Frustration that Patrick cannot solve the problem of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Frustration that so many children are falling through the cracks. In my opinion, HOLLY is able to portray the frustration that a lot of people face when trying to fight this modern-day evil.
Though I spent the rest of my day feeling uncomfortable and disturbed, I also felt very grateful that the movie accurately reminded us of the complexity of the problem. Culture, economic disparity, gender roles, language, personalities, social taboos, mental disorders, drugs, and misconceptions make for a confusing jumble when trying to help victims and break the cycle of trafficking.