Award-winning filmmaker Stephanie Wang-Breal shines a spotlight on a deserving subject, a New York City court that helps women arrested for prostitution leave “the life” rather than go to jail. Presided over by a Japanese American woman judge, Toko Serita, the court is filled with women helping other women, including prosecuting attorney Kim Affronti, working with women who often have complex situations and no one else to help them.
The documentary’s title comes from the street, where “blowin’ up” means a prostitute leaving her pimp, which is just what Serita’s court does. The court runs somewhat like a drug court but the women who appear before Judge Serita have complicated problems and often no support system. Some of the women are African American but many of the women we see in the film are undocumented Asian women, some of whom may have been trafficked. Language is only one of the many obstacles the court must deal with.
To give these women the best chance, the court coordinates with a non-profit, that to helps them find a variety of support services, while serving as their advocates and support system in court and out. With this partnership, the court helps these young women turn their lives around and escape the world of prostitution.
Wang-Breal uses an unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall approach, with no narration and few interviews. Mostly, we just see the court and the people around it doing their good work, but we also follow a few individual stories. The court room footage proves surprisingly involving and even gripping at times. We come to care about these young women who have fallen into this life, often out of economic need and now have no way to escape, as well as the people with the court and non-profit striving to open that door for them.
We cannot help but be filled with admiration for these women striving so hard to help other women who have no other advocate. It is an admirable system one hopes other cities will adopt. While we see the people associated with the court go through a number of changes and challenges, particularly after the presidential election, one feels certain these strong, smart women will find a way to continue their good work.