Harvard FXB Visiting Scientist Siddarth Kara has launched two major projects this month that examine the issue of human trafficking and its global impact. First, his film Trafficked, starring Ashley Judd, Amiah Miller, and Patrick Duffy premiered on October 6th in Los Angeles and New York. The very next day, his book Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective, was released by Columbia University Press. Recently, we sat down with Kara and talked with him about the genesis of these projects and what’s next:
FXB: Your film Trafficked is out now in theaters. How did this project come about?
SK: The film was inspired by my first book, Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, which I wrote in 2008. Even when writing that book, I had plans to make it a film. I thought the book would be my literary contribution; I would make arguments from policy statements, it would be a bit more academic, then I’d try and make a film. No matter how well I wrote that book, I knew millions more people would see a movie.
FXB: What made you think that the topic would translate successfully to the screen?
SK: There are other movies out there about this topic, but I was not satisfied with the films being made. There were some good documentaries, but no feature films that were authentic and global. How can you tell a story about sex trafficking successfully if it’s not a global story? It’s an injustice to the issue when the story is not authentic and drawn from real cases from around the world that bring in all the complexity and nuance it deserves. So, I wrote the book and that had its journey, but it was a few years before I sat down and wrote the screenplay, because I hadn’t done that before. It took about three years from when I finished the script to the movie being on the screen.
FXB: What particular cases from the book made it into the film?
SK: The film follows the journey of three young girls, characters who are inspired by cases that I documented. One is a girl in California who had aged out of the foster care system, one is a girl from Nigeria who was forced by poverty into migration, and finally, a middle class girl from India. They are all victims of a global trafficking network. In the film, they end up in the same brothel in Texas and band together to gain back their freedom and dignity.
I wanted to tell three different stories that would each give a multi-faceted look at the issue. Of course this is not a documentary. It’s a feature film inspired by real events, so not everything can make it in. You don’t want the film to be overtly didactic, but authentic and engaging where the audience learns by way of the narrative and what’s happening between characters.
FXB: We live in a different political landscape from the time you wrote the book. How is the conversation around this topic different as you promote the film?
SK: Eradicating slavery is a bipartisan issue which people in government and NGOs are working hard on, no matter the administration that’s in office. What has changed though, is that that the treatment of women in general is a larger topic right now: Gender bias, gender violence, the degradation and sexual objectification of women. These conversations seem to be happening more frequently in the context of the current political environment. These are the topics that the movie and book are rooted in.
FXB: Does the new book (Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective) dovetail with the movie?
SK: Thematically, yes, in that there is a chapter in the book on sex trafficking. The book is really a summary of my 16 years of research on slavery around the world. I’d love for it to be a foundational text that gives the reader a comprehensive overview of the key manifestations of slavery in the world today: sex trafficking, labor trafficking, organ trafficking, debt bondage, technology and human trafficking. There’s a chapter on global supply chains. These are the key topics one needs to understand if you want to understand modern slavery. The book aims to be accessible to everyday readers, policy makers, and academics alike.
FXB: What is next for you after these big projects?
SK: I’ve written my next film. I’m putting the finishing touches on the script, but haven’t begun getting it out there yet. Film is the most powerful tool in the world to spread a message and awareness. Feature film that’s grounded in a cause is what I’m passionate about. That is a powerful combination and I am going to try to continue to tell these stories that are close to my heart through film.
Trafficked, written by FXB Visiting Scientist Siddarth Kara, and directed by Will Wallace, was released in theaters on October 6th.
Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective is for sale through amazon and at your local bookstore.
For more on Siddarth and his work go to: fxb.harvard.edu/people/siddarth-kara