The award-winning director says the film, shot in India and Nepal, can be used as tool to combat child trafficking.
WASHINGTON, DC: Jeffrey D. Brown both co-adapted and directed the cinematic iteration of “Sold” after being inspired by the eponymously named novel written by Patricia McCormick in 2006. When Brown realized that the story being told was an analog for the plight of millions of children across the globe, the idea of adapting the story for further audiences struck. Since its release, he and his team have partnered with various organizations in order to use the film as a tool to raise awareness. Following its April 21 Washington, DC, premiere at George Washington University, Brown sat down with the American Bazaar to further expound on the film’s creation and the issue of child trafficking at large. Here are edited excerpts:
What was the inspiration to make this movie?
The reason we made this movie is to help kids that are at risk in India, Nepal and the U.S. I think the inspiration was really from the book [“Sold”]. When I read the book, I was so deeply touched. It’s one girl’s story and this one girl’s story speaks for something like 1.8 million children who are forced into sexual slavery every year.
You have actors from multiple countries working on the film. How was it like working with such a diverse cast?
We had an incredible crew. Some of them came from Mumbai; others came from Kolkata. We had great Indian actors [and] super talented cast: Seema Biswas, Ankur Wikal, Sushmita Mukerjee, Tillotama Shome, Priyanka Bose, just amazing, talented cast. They made it easy but it was a … it’s a challenging subject. It was hard for all of us to bear witness to the reality that we were filming, but there is lot of laughter, and in the movie, there’s different emotions. We threw in a little masala and we also threw in childlike humor as well. So the movie really shows a child forced in to this issue; forced into a brothel against her will. But she remains a child; but she is very strong and she is helping everyone around her, and, at the same time, the whole time trying to figure out how can I get out, how can I escape. So the film leaves the audience inspired. Inspired to take action.
Was it very difficult working on the film, given the nature of the subject?
So when we researched this movie, we went through the red-light district of Kamathipura and also the Sonagachi and we also talk to many NGO’s, non-profit organizations, Apne Aap, Newlight, Purana. You know there are many other organizations we went to, rescue mission in Mumbai, and we met, I would say we saw 2000 girls who have been trafficked. And their average age is around 13-14 like the girl on the movie. This is the global average age of the children under traffic, and it is same in US, same in Nepal, India, anywhere in the world. The average age is 13. This is a very, it’s a very heart wrenching reality. And, we must come together and make a change, to change this.
How was the response been so far?
In the US, we had a great response, the audiences is always very deeply moved and they laugh, they cry and they wanted to know [more about the issue]. Often one of the first questions is: “What can I do?” So our website www.soldthemovie.com has ways for people to engage deeply with the issue and to become a part of the solution, to become a part of the change that needs to happen.
Do you have plans to release it in India? How can people in India watch the movie?
We very much want to release the film in India and we also want to translate it in to multiple languages. So we are raising funds to do this. We hope to be in India by this fall or by the winter of this year.
How did you find the actors?
The hardest part of finding the actors was finding the lead girl. We looked for six months. We saw over a thousand children; 700 were on video. And we had an amazing casting woman, Tess Joseph in Mumbai, and her team went all over India and also Nepal to find these kids. They went to schools. They auditioned so many children and when we saw the audition that Niyar Saikia did, this was her–enough. So our prayers have been answered. She is a phenomenal actor. Sushmita Mukerjee, she told me she never auditioned for anything in her life; but she really wanted to do this movie. She was really moved by the script. And she went with the huge wig, she was chewing pan and she really, like, became Mumtaz, the character who is the villain, the negative character in the film. And her audition also was just amazing; was stellar. And Ankur Vikal, he is a phenomenal actor. He was in so many movies, and was recently in “24 Hours”. So I think everyone knows him from this. But, also, “Slumdog [Millionaire]” in the West. And Seema Biswas, she has probably won every award that is to win in India. She was in “Water” and so many films. She was the “Bandit Queen” when she was just starting out. And Tillotama Shome [was] in “Monsoon Wedding” and so many other incredible films. All of these actors were so committed and many of them have traveled with us, with the film and they really care deeply about the issue. They met these kids. And like me and Jane [Charles], the producer, we‘re all just whatever can we do to use this film to support children who are in risk or who have been trafficked, we will do.
How was your experience working with Indian Actors?
Culturally [it] was a different world. Some Indian actors tend to over act a little bit. So we had to find the middle ground. So that happened a little bit, but mostly these actors were trained by [India’s] National School of Drama. Almost all actors are of International School of Drama and that is one of the phenomenal acting training grounds in the world. So these are world class actors, I mean we had the difficulty of choosing between great and great. There were so many talented actors in India and all my cast is they are just phenomenon.
How can people help fighting child trafficking?
So, the way to end child trafficking is everyone needs to bear witness to this reality. There are, you know, soldthemovie.com lists our partner organizations. Wherever you live, In India, I’m sure there is an excellent organization right in your city. Find out about that organization. See if it is a worthy one of your support. You can donate your time and talent, or money. We saw organizations that really need support. And we saw children that really need support. These kids need vocational training and they need healing. And they need people, and they need community to support them. So that’s a lot of what we are doing with the “Taught Not Trafficked” campaign. We want to keep kids in school because if you keep a girl in school till 16 or more, the chances of her getting trafficked drop 80 per cent. So that’s the first step. So next step: educate girls. There are many wonderful organizations throughout India like Pratham and many others that are educating girls. So support this effort. And then also support the kids who have been trafficked, because if they can be healed and empowered, given vocational training and brought into freedom they are going to be the change-makers. Because they have already faced death and they are the ones who are going to be the fearless activists. Same in this country, our laws change because people who are trafficked in the U.S. testify to Congress. I think the same will happen in India as well.
Do you think the legal system should be strengthened to combat child trafficking?
Our film is based on a novel which was written for high school kids. It’s been translated into 32 languages. And often it’s the first thing a young person will read to understand this issue of human slavery, it’s still happening today. Most people walking around in our world don’t know there are 21 million slaves on the planet. Most people don’t know this. This book begins that process with young people. And our film and the book put together are very powerful combination to start educating more and more people. We want to get the movie translated to lots and lots of languages all over the world. There is a great organization called International Justice Mission. They work on the law side, and they are working with the Indian government, and they are working with the authorities, the police in India. In every country including the U.S. there are good police, and there are police who are corrupt. In every country there are good politicians and also politicians who are corrupt. This issue goes up and down on the ladder of both the police and government. So, the political will must be there to really affect this. Also corporations must get involved and citizens must get involved. I think Nirbhaya changed everything in India. There is a woman Ruchira Gupta, who is the founder of Apne Aap. For 9 years, she tried to change the laws in India to make them much more tough on the traffickers, on the crime syndicates. After Nirbhaya, those laws passed. So now on the books in India there are very very stringent laws. The next step is getting them enforced, getting them enforced on a much bigger scale. Same is true in the U.S. I met a nurse, who works in an emergency room in New York, in a hospital. She told me she cannot report a trafficking victim to the regular police. Because many of the regular police are complaisant. Not all. So she has to report to a special unit if she suspects trafficking. So this is a global problem. It’s not just a problem in India. And there are so many people addressing it globally, we need more people addressing it, we need more awareness about this.
You have started a campaign now. Tell us more about it
Yeah, we have a campaign with this film called the “Taught Not Trafficked” campaign. We are building schools in Nepal. 5,000 schools were destroyed in Nepal [by the earthquake]. We are using our film as a fund raiser for organization called Childreach Nepal, because if you educate kids until they are 16 the chances of them being trafficked will be down. In India, we are partnered with Art of Living and the Carefulchild Initiative. The Art of Living Foundation is building shelters for the children who are from the red-light districts and from the streets. Because these children are very vulnerable. If we can get them at schools and have people, the community save [them]… community support them, they will have incredible lives. We are also bringing something called yoganidra to survivors of trafficking both in India and Nepal. This is something, this is yoga that is very ancient. It comes from India, its being used in the U.S. with the veterans that are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. It stabilizes PTST, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. So we are using our film to raise funds to bring this kind of healing and support to the survivors of sex trafficking because they also have PTST. Many of them have physically brutalized and forced into this and you know there are other initiatives. But those are the main ones and we have incredible partners, Save the Children, World Vision, Art of Living, ECPAT, many great Rotarians, Rotary Clubs. We want our film to be brought to communities, to Rotary Clubs, so that they can use film to raise funds in their area for addressing trafficking where they live as well as internationally. So the idea is to get not just to individuals in a movie theater involved, but communities involved. So this is our hope for the film. To raise millions of dollars to help this issue, change and to spread the light of awareness.
Watch the interview: