My Discomfort with Born into Brothels--and Perhaps the Activist Documentary Form in General
When I first checked out a film called Born Into Brothels from the library I immediately felt anxious about its point of view, and from skimming the DVD cover that read in bold-faced text, "Uplifting!", that sentiment did not seem like it was going to change. Not to say that I didn't appreciate a chance to look into the lives of a group of young children that frankly, it had not occurred to me existed--it was that the documentary seemed to so determinedly manipulate what little access I was being given into that of a role I was not free to pick.
As evidenced by subtleties such as the "Uplifting!" comment, I was left with little space to come to my own conclusion about what I had just seen. This documentary was not to bring pure awareness to the lives of the children and their families, it was to affect and appease its Western audience. as a viewer, I felt thrown to the mercy of the documenters' views and exceedingly uncomfortable watching how little exposure was given to the actual prostitutes and their relationships with their children, husbands, and the community in which they lived as well as the communities they were constantly being turned away from. As we discussed in class, we witnessed the very intentional showcasing of abusive interactions of the mothers with their children instead an honest look into how those sort of relationships form under the pressure of institutional prostitution, or even a positive scene to contrast the violence. By the end of this film, the viewer can easily still feel a member of a community that would still alienate and dismiss these women as untouchable prostitutes--but a community that would still gladly take their children.