David Schisgall, Nina Alvarez and Priya Swaminathan's flawed but disturbing documentary, commissioned by Showtime, documents both the stories of underage NYC prostitutes and the efforts of outreach worker Rachel Lloyd to help them escape a life of abuse and exploitation.
The UK-born Lloyd came to New York via Munich; she dropped out of school as a young teenager, drifted into stripping and prostitution, and found her calling in reaching out to lost girls. Lloyd started GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Services) out of her own apartment and gradually expanded it into a full-fledged recovery center. The filmmakers profile several young women who passed through the GEMS program, most the products of impoverished, fractured households in rough neighborhoods; some were sweet-talked by predatory, much-older men into turning tricks, others brainwashed or drugged into compliance. The film's greatest weakness is its failure to systematically explore the social and economic reasons they were vulnerable to the blandishments of pimps: They're articulate teenagers raised in tough urban environments, not naïve girls sold to traffickers from remote Asian villages, or lured into the sex trade with promises of overseas jobs as au pairs or waitresses. Their stories are heartbreaking nonetheless, and it's clear that having made their mistakes, they were profoundly failed by the social welfare system: Shelters won't take minors, the police can be indifferent and the courts regularly send underage prostitutes to jail rather than treating them as victims of statutory rape. It would also be instructive to know more about Lloyd's own escape from the streets, how she wound up in New York and managed to translate her desire to help a vulnerable, underserved population into a viable rehabilitation program when so many equally well-intentioned projects fail.
That said, the filmmakers struck gold with confiscated home-video footage of grinning brothers Anthony and Chris Griffith, who apparently thought they could become reality TV stars by documenting their entrepreneurial adventures in recruiting, managing and selling teen prostitutes. Their brutal disregard for human dignity is troubling, but their bottom-line savvy about pop-culture images of pimps and hos is flat-out horrifying.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: David Schisgall, Nina Alvarez and Priya Swaminathan's flawed but disturbing documentary, commissioned by Showtime, documents both the stories of underage NYC prostitutes and the efforts of outreach worker Rachel Lloyd to help them escape a life of abuse an… (more)