Monday, December 30, 2013

Born Into Brothels: you have probably never seen the cycle of povery this clearly

This is a hard documentary to watch for a lot of reasons.  Sure, the subtitles are not always there, rendering much of the experience of watching difficult and the experience of comprehending impossible, but one of the hardest reasons is because it forces you to face the fact that some parents do not, in fact, want what is good for their children: they do not want their children's fortunes to improve, for their children to have better lives than they have had.  Some parents want their children to have the same lives they have had.  Some parents want their children to suffer as they have; some parents don't see a reason why their kids should have better lives than they have had to endure.  This is a very hard truth to be faced with. 

Maybe, to be fair, the truth is more that some parents think that what's good for their children is to have the same lives they've had, no matter how awful and crappy said lives are.  Maybe the truth is that the tradition, the repetition of the historical pattern is what they value, and that they think anything that seeks to change that is, in fact, bad.  Maybe, even though the caste system was abolished last century, its hold and its basic idea that people are born into their station and to desire anything else is wrong still grip the people hard.  Maybe this is one of those painful cultural differences not explained very well because it's not part of the story the creators are trying to tell. 

But after watching this documentary about a small group of kids born in brothels and how the intervention of a journalist with cameras changes (and doesn't change) their lives, I'm angry and more likely to be fired up by the former than the latter.  This is violent, brutal, tragic, powerful stuff well worth a watch if you haven't come from the kind of crushing, cyclical poverty it brings to life.  Do yourself a favor: slap yourself in the face by watching this; realize how hard life is for folks who live very different lives from yours, and then find some ways you can help make things better somehow.  (I recommend child sponsorship because it helps the whole community and usually doesn't involve sending kids away from their families.) 

Just keep a lot of tissues on hand if your compassion runs to the weepy variety (and if the subtitles work).

The ad copy talks about how inspiring and uplifting it is.  I can't say that's not true at all.  There is much to rejoice at: the way that kids can live terrible lives and still have an eye for beauty, still have curiosity, still have hope. There are even some who triumph and escape (at least temporarily).  But I was left haunted by the way many of these kids are trapped and prevented by their parents from finding freedom and better lives. 

Some folks got angry because they saw the film narrative as "westerner comes and tries to save the backwards non-westerners by taking their children away," but, frankly, I don't know how anyone could live in that environment and not get pulled under by it because of their love for their family.  Sometimes letting someone go is the only way for them to get the training they need to become a doctor or an engineer or a scientist or a photojournalist or a writer or some other career that requires a lot of concentrated work and in the end might allow a family to not have to resort to prostitution to keep itself afloat.  (I think here of folks like John Scalzi, who had to get a scholarship to a boarding school that let him get away from his crushing childhood poverty in order to help himself HAVE a future outside of it.)  Poverty exerts its own gravity,no matter what culture you live in, and sometimes extreme measures are the only way to escape it and do good in the end.

Basically, I don't recommend watching without your critical faculties engaged, because documentaries are carefully crafted pieces of creative nonfiction.  Some of the one and two star reviews on Amazon bring up some good points and make me want to go get some other perspectives, but what I managed to pull out of my viewing of this film stirred me to action, and I think that's not a bad thing.

If you've seen the film, what was your stronger reaction?

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