Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Institut fur Amerikanistik HS “American Media Today, American and Canadian Documentary” Summer semester
: 2008/09 Instructor: Marcus Heide Student: Vahide Goktas Student Number: 411220 E-mail: email@example.com
BORN INTO BROTHELS Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids about the Children of sex workers in Sonagachi where is the Calcutta’s red light district in India. Born into Brothels, written and directed by New York based photojournalist Zana Briski and Ross Kaufmann and it won over 25 major awards, including the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2005.
Besides sex workers in Calcutta and feminists in India, a lot of intellectuals made a response to the movie. The representation, the translation errors from Indian to English, the preparation process of the movie and Zana Briski’s statements after the movie had a lot of critics from India.
Firstly, I want to start with a short summary of the movie: In 1997, Zana Briski moved to Calcutta to live with sex workers and document their lives through the photography. During her living in the brothels, she developed her relationships with the children who are born into sex trades. Zana provided the children with 35mm cameras and taught them how to use the cameras at weekly workshops. The children
captured the images of their daily life and they had a chance to learn their own creativity, their own-life and also their self worth. She also tried to get placed these children in private schools to escape them from the red light district. But it was also hard to find places in special schools, some of them had to turn back to Calcutta, some of them just taken by their families. One of the children also selected to travel to Amsterdam to be part of a children’s jury at World Press Photo Foundation photo exhibit in Amsterdam (2002). After spending a great effort, finally she managed to send one of the kids, Avijit to Amsterdam. I want to tell about ethic aspects of the movie and I want to continue with a letter from secretary of Calcutta Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Community, which published at the Telegraph Newspaper on 15 March 2005. “There has been a lot of hype over Born into Brothels recently, with its maker, Zana Briski, winning an Oscar. In her interview with The Telegraph, “I didn’t even realize I was making a film” (March 7), she has said that we did not cooperate with her over the film. It is true that she approached us and we too asked her many times to share the film with our ethics committee, but she didn’t pay any attention. Having seen the film recently, we now realize what the problem was. The film is a one-sided portrayal of the life of sex workers in Sonagachi. It shows sex workers as unconcerned about the future of their children. This is not true. Being a sex worker and a mother, I can say that we are more protective as mothers than can be imagined. The documentary does not shed light on the valiant efforts of the sex workers to unite in order to change their own lives as well as that of their progeny. In this sense, Born into Brothels is biased. In this age, when it is the norm to respect ethical considerations while making documentaries, the film used hidden cameras to shoot intimate moments in the lives of sex-workers and their work zones. We fear the global recognition of such a film, giving a one-sided view of the lives of sex workers in a third world country, may do a lot of harm to the global movement of sex workers for their rights and dignity. It can even have an impact on their hard-won victories for rights, un-stigmatized healthcare and access to resources.” Yours faithfully, Swapna Gayen, secretary, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Calcutta During the movie it is so clear that we are seeing a white woman who is
trying to save these brown children life. We are watching these children’s naked mothers and drug addict fathers when they are using drugs what are not finding ethical from so many Indians, especially for sex worker mothers. Yes, movie can be look like with a lot of hopes, achievements and failures, conflicts but several missing from ethic sides what are really important especially for a brothel. Instead of cleaning deeply American culture freezing soul in India by some exploiting gurus returning home with a third eye like her friends, Zana Briski did a more auspicious job by knitting a colorful, orientalist embroidery with teaching photography to children, who grew up in red-light district, just the way academicians like. We are watching these kids and their incredible photography talents with Indian music and colors, but throughout the movie our actual struggle is rescuing them from this den of vice, from among drug addict fathers, sex worker mothers and grandmothers. Let them settle in a boarding school and say good-bye to this life for once and for all. Hence we are bothering ourselves when we read at the final that, these kids have left those boarding schools at their own longing or request of their families. Audience feel a bit shock at that moment but aren't coming any sex workers or drug addicts from these missionary schools where these kids are put, tear apart from their folks and families? Are we going to hand them a diploma (certificate) of equality of opportunity and happiness in these isolation colleges. How are we sure that our liberal brains are thinking the best for everyone?