Netflix shines a devastating light on sex trafficking in its newly released mystery-thriller film, I Am All Girls. It’s based on the true story of a sex trafficking syndicate during the apartheid era in South Africa. Jodie Snyman (Erica Wessels) is obsessed with finding the girls who were taken and who are being trafficked. To her, these kids are her children. She takes it personally, and she would do anything to save them.
In the first 15 minutes of the film, we’re immediately pulled in with an unsuccessful raid and shots of a doll and a pink sandal that was left behind, along with the note scratched in the concrete wall of the underground cell: “Phone my mommy.” The vivid imagery sets the tone for what will become a hunt for a serial killer, who is dedicated to bringing down the monsters who would steal underage children.
Jodie seems to have a dark avenging angel, a serial killer who begins to take out known pedophiles. Each body is inscribed with the bloody initials for one underaged girl, who’d disappeared with likely links to sex trafficking (they’d been taken to be used and sold into trafficking). At one point, she screams at her boss, “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Frustration quickly mounts as Jodie systematically uncovers evidence, but then repeatedly hits roadblocks as police procedure and sleight-of-hand actions by powerful men leave her with nothing. She’s always too late, and she drowns her sorrows in alcohol as she continues to hit her head against the proverbial wall.
The Story of All Girls
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All the while, we slowly get the back-story on Ntombizonke “Ntombi” Bapai (Hlubi Mboya), a forensic scientist on the murder cases. She was abducted as a child and taken to the compound of FJ Nolte (Deon Lotz), a cabinet minister of the National Party. He’s rich and powerful, and it’s clear he’s got a whole network working with him to undermine and dismantle any investigation into their nefarious abuse, trafficking, and murder activities.
Her name, “Ntombi,” is Zulu for lady, but part of the meaning of the name is that of someone who is unstoppable. In the movie, she says, “My name is Ntombizonke. It means ‘all girls’.” All the while, she sees herself as a young girl, but she also flashes back to when she was in a brothel, studying huge tomes to dig her way out of her horrendous circumstances.
Ntombi succeeded. She got out, but she never forgot what happened to her. She could not let them get away with what they did. She could not stand by and watch more young girls continue to disappear. She proved that she, too, would do whatever it took. She sacrificed everything to bring about the justice that she’d always dreamed and hoped for as a young girl.
A Fragile Sort of Story
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In an interview, Mboya said she wanted the movie to be “something of art, with worth and with a message and a meaning.” She accomplished that, but she also shed light on an issue that’s not just restricted to a time period or country. If Ntombi represents “all girls,” her actions also demonstrate that this is a social issue that transcends borders. It affects all of humanity.
In the closing credits, we read, “The US department estimates 500,000 to 700,000 women are trafficked every year. More than half are children. Less than 1% are ever recovered. This film is dedicated to the victims, their families and the organizations that fight for them.”
It’s not the sort of story that’s happy. In fact, it’s tragic and devastating.
The film is sad. It’s a tear-jerker. It’s a catch-in-your-throat tragedy. But I hope it also reminds us all that there is more we can do NOW. If you’re ready to learn more, here are some organizations who are leading the charge.
It is NOT ok. It is not right. But there is more that all of us can do to help bring an end to sex trafficking. The simplest of actions can make a difference, and the first step is to be aware.
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