BLOWIN’ UP – Documentary Review

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Filmmaker Stephanie Wang Breal’s latest documentary, Blowin’Up, takes us into New York City’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, where Judge Toko Serita has presided over cases against young prostitutes since the pilot court program began in 2004.

The court is dedicated — uniquely so — to advancing justice for young women who’ve become prostitutes because it is, as they see it, their only route to survival. All members of the unique court – the judge, prosecutors, special social workers and defending attorneys from legal services – are dedicated to helping these women who are at risk escape ‘the life.’ The film’s title, Blowin’Up, is street slang for leaving a pimp. The court’s goal is to enable young women who are charged with prostitution to change their lives.

The court works in conjunction with a nonprofit called GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services) to supervise the young women and provide personal and career guidance that will enable them to find to find other paths to legit jobs and healthier life styles.

GEMS, which was founded over 20 years ago, is not the primary focus of Blowin’ Up. But the organization was more extensively covered in David Schisgall’s equally compelling 2008 documentary Very Young Girls, a shocking expose about tweens and teens who’ve been lured into prostitution. The girls are too young to appear in the Human Trafficking Intervention Court, and their special needs would be neglected by the criminal justice system, were it not for GEMS.

The young women in both Blowin’Up and Very Young Girls are clearly the victims of poverty and misfortune. They’ve grown up in broken homes without adult supervision. Some are undocumented immigrants who cannot find jobs. They have been victimized into prostitution. They have heartbreaking stories to tell, and clearly need the guidance and help the court and GEMS provide. They need and deserve a chance to live decently.

In Blowin’ Up, Stephanie Wang Breal wisely plays down the drama of the women’s demeaning experiences and focuses instead on the concerted efforts – their own and those of the court, attorneys and social workers — to help them transform their lives.

Most alarming is that the Human Trafficking Intervention Court, a unique part of the criminal justice system court that actually attempts to deliver justice by helping these women at risk, is now actually at risk of being shut down because of budget cuts. That would be a travesty.

Blowin’ Up, is a beautifully crafted documentary that captures close up and personal conversations on camera with well-positioned fly on the wall observations of court procedures and daily life to deliver a well-researched and convincing deliberation about a crucial issue that impacts women. This is a must see film. And it’s recommended that it be seen as a double bill with Very Young Girls.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Blowin’ Up is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for April 5, 2019

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