While acting in a musical on Broadway in which the centerpiece topic centered around women in “the life”, I took it upon myself to do a little research. In addition to doing some character study of table top dancers on 8th Avenue, I took a little field trip one night to ‘Hunt’s Point.’ Hunt’s Point is an area deep in the Bronx that is well known for being populated with women in the life. What I discovered is the very few of these women chose to turn tricks and many of them reached a point in life where they believed they had no their choice in life to survive.
As I sat in the theatre watching Blowin’ Up at the AFI DOCS Film Festival and again at the AFI Festival, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those days while being introduced to a whole new crop of women facing those challenges coupled with immigration, trafficking. Lucky for these women in Queens, NY, they had the Honorable Judge Toko Serita and GEMS social worker Eliza Hook to assist with guiding them in the direction of a second chance without a record to follow them for a lifetime.
Directed by Stephanie Wang-Breal and Carrie Weprin, the lid is lifted and literally blown up exposing the compassionate side of the justice system, their employees and the women who come to court looking for a break. It also shows the ugly side of a judicial process that has no boundaries as we watch Immigration officials burst into the court with arrest warrants and no prosecution of the pimps or trafficking figure heads.
If only every judge in a court could be as compassionate as Judge Serita, who comes from a not so savory past herself. Or a social worker like Eliza Hook who takes on the pain and accomplishments of her clients as if they were her own.
Blowin’ Up caught me with a lump in my throat numerous times over how unfair life can be and how the Times Up movement couldn’t have ignited itself at a better time.
Never do we hear the words “sex worker” or “prostitute” spoken in the courtroom. Instead, Judge Serita and the court try to create a safe space for these women within the confines of a legal system where sex work and prostitution are criminalized. The question asked over and over by defense teams and social workers is: Why are these women arrested in the first place? As the film progresses, and a new administration takes over in the White House, the courtroom’s fragile ecosystem is tested and the fates of those who pass through become less certain.
Blowin’ Up premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, was featured at the AFI Docs Film Festival and now at the AFI Film Festival