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Netflix Film Review: JOY

This piece will analyse the Netflix film JOY. The movie aims to unravel the realities of sex trafficking and prostitution rings that migrants and refugees find themselves trapped in. The film is relevant to understanding the complexities of human trafficking and the underlying trauma victims are burdened with for wanting a better livelihood for themselves.

The film JOY is an Austrian social issue drama released in 2018. It was directed and filmed by Sudabeh Mortezai and stars Anwulika Alphonsus who plays the role of Joy, a young Nigerian woman sold into sex trafficking to pay off debts to support her distant family.

In the first scene, Joy is asked to help a newcomer settle in, a young Nigerian girl by the name of Precious who has just been introduced to the prostitution industry. At first, Precious is reluctant in her training of being sold and refuses to give sexual services to strange men when roaming the cold streets with Joy. Eventually when the Madame notices that Precious’s financial contribution for the day was minimal due to her reluctance to engage her customers, the Madame’s hired thugs proceed to take Precious to an isolated room and repeatedly rape her as a method of punishment and a way to instill obedience. This particular scene is triggering and disturbing. Precious is heard crying and struggling in the room, whilst Madame waits outside with the other girls who stand helplessly and with facial expressions that betray Precious’s experience is one that they too might have previously been subjected to.

*Spoilers below*

Joy has a young daughter and her eagerness to pay off her Madame’s debt and to escape the sex trafficking industry to take care of her family and live a normal life overwhelms her. She tries to help Precious oblige the Madame and her rules, reassuring the still-reluctant young woman that although she may not want to sleep with her male customers, all she needs to worry about is getting the money to pay off her debts. At the end of the movie, we see that Joy eventually pays off her debt, but despite trying to get Madame arrested for her criminal involvement in human trafficking, she is not guaranteed a visa to stay in the country. Meanwhile, Precious was sold to a new employer who trafficked her to another European country for further exploitation.

The movie importantly highlights the horrors of the sex trafficking industry, where sex work is not a choice. The title of the film ironically suggests the opposite of the victims’ lived reality. The film exposes the audience to the emotionally moving and often triggering realities that victims of human trafficking go through, especially when trafficked to a foreign country. The psychological trauma the women in the film endure was evident, taking for instance the reluctance of Precious who was raped into submission.

The film had both strong and weak points. The strongest aspects of the film illustrated what victims are faced with when first trafficked. The idea that once one is trafficked, her body no longer belongs to her but rather belongs to the perpetrator, who perceives the victim as an object simply to be used, marks this $99 billion dollar industry. On the other hand, the film was weak in failing to highlight the long-term effects of the trauma these women were put through.

Overall, JOY is worth a watch, because it is an essential film that aims to educate the public about the sex trafficking industry. The story that unfolds in the film is not unique, but rather it is a tale that many victims of trafficking can closely relate to, and it is unfortunately a tale that many are deprived of telling. For modern slavery to be abolished in practice, we need to evaluate how storytelling can contribute to building effective and proactive anti-trafficking campaigns.

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