“BLOWIN UP” ON PROSTITUTION

A behind-the-scenes look at a Queens sex trafficking court that’s changing the way women are prosecuted for prostitution.

Aired on October 21, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

> 'BLOWIN' UP' IS A FASCINATING DOCUMENTARY THAT PROFILES THE WOMEN WHO RUN AND WHO COME BEFORE THE QUEENS HUMAN TRAFFICKING INTERVENTION COURT.

THE FIRST PROBLEM-SOLVING COURT IN THE COUNTRY ATTEMPTING TO REDRESS THE WAY WOMEN AND YOUNG GIRLS ARRESTED FOR PROSTITUTION ARE SUFFERED THROUGH OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM.

WITH UNPARALLELED ACCESS TO THE COURT, THE FILM CAPTURES WHAT IT IS TRULY LIKE FOR THESE DEFENDANTS, OVERWHELMINGLY UNDOCUMENTED ASIAN IMMIGRANTS AND AMERICAN WOMEN OF COLOR TO GO THROUGH THESE COMPLEX CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS.

HERE'S A LOOK.

THIS CHARGE IS A DEPORTABLE OFFENSE.

SHE WAS IN CRISIS, AND HE JUST SWOOPED IN.

HE SLEEPS WITH HER PASSPORT.

HE SLEEPS WITH HER ID AND SOCIAL SECURITY CARD.

I CAN'T SAY THAT EVERY WOMAN WHO COMES THROUGH THE COURT IS GOING TO GET THE EXACT HELP THEY NEED.

I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.

WAIT, WHAT?

WE ARE GOING TO GRANT AN EARLY FEELING.

YAY.

IT'S CALLED 'BLOWIN' UP' WHEN YOU LEAVE A PIMP.

SO I BLEW UP.

AND I WENT HOME.

AND JOINING US NOW IS THE DIRECTOR OF 'BLOWIN' UP,' STEPHANIE WANG-BREAL.

STEPHANIE, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME, RAFAEL.

RIGHT FROM THE START, YOU TAKE US INTO THE MIDDLE OF THIS QUEENS COURT WITHOUT NARRATION, WITHOUT EXPLANATION, AND WE'RE THERE WITH PEOPLE THAT WE DON'T KNOW WHO THEY ARE.

I WAS WONDERING IF THAT WAS INTENTIONAL, IF YOU WANTED TO GET US TO FEEL A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT THE WOMEN DEFENDANTS WHO ARE ABOUT TO FACE THE COURT ARE FEELING.

YEAH.

YOU KNOW, WHEN I FIRST EXPERIENCED THIS COURTROOM, THE FIRST TIME THAT I OBSERVED IT AT WORK, I ALSO FELT THAT WAY.

AND I WAS JUST TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT ARE THESE TERMS MEAN, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE, WHO'S DOING WHAT?

WHO IS A DEFENDANT?

SO IT IS A PLACE THAT IS A BUREAUCRATIC PLACE, THAT IS VERY CONFUSING.

AND SO I WANTED TO GIVE VIEWERS AND AUDIENCES A FEELING OF WHAT THAT MUST FEEL LIKE TO COME INTO A PLACE LIKE THIS.

I EXPECTED THE STEREOTYPE, RIGHT?

THE JADED JUDGE, THE JADED PROSECUTOR, THE OVERWORKED PUBLIC DEFENDANT TRYING TO COP A PLEA, BUT INSTEAD YOU FIND A JUDGE AND A PROSECUTOR TREATING THE DEFENDANTS AS HUMAN BEINGS IN DISTRESS RATHER THAN CRIMINALS.

YOU SEE THE LAWYERS AND THE SOCIAL WELFARE COUNSELORS TREATING THEM LIKE FAMILY.

WHAT KIND OF COURT IS THIS?

THINKING IS A PROBLEM-SOLVING COURT, AND IT'S THE FIRST COURT OF ITS KIND IN OUR NATION THAT IS TRYING TO CHANGE THE WAY WOMEN WHO ARE ARRESTED FOR PROSECUTION ARE PROSECUTED.

AND I WAS ATTRACTED AS WELL TO THIS SPACE BECAUSE OF THE DEEP HUMANITY THAT IS AT THE CORE OF THIS INSTITUTION.

YOU KNOW, WE ALL HAVE INSTITUTIONS SURROUNDING US IN EVERY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM IN OUR LIVES.

BUT I THINK AT THE CORE OF EACH OF THESE INSTITUTIONS, THERE ARE PEOPLE RUNNING THEM.

AND IF THE PEOPLE ARE REALLY GOOD AND TRYING TO CHANGE THE WAY THAT THESE INSTITUTIONS ARE RUN, IT'S A WHOLE DIFFERENT KIND OF PLACE.

HOW DID YOU GET THE ACCESS?

TO THE COURT AND TO THE PEOPLE WHO YOU WOULD ASSUME WOULD NOT WANT TO BE FILMED?

SO MAKING A FILM LIKE THIS, AS YOU CAN IMAGINE, IS VERY CHALLENGING.

YEAH.

NO ONE WANTED TO BE IN THIS FILM.

NO ONE WANTED TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS FILM.

SO IT TOOK US ABOUT TEN MONTHS OF OBSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT AND RESEARCH AND BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH EVERYONE IN THE COURT BEFORE WE WERE EVEN ALLOWED TO BRING CAMERAS INTO THE SPACE.

AND ONCE CAMERAS WERE BROUGHT IN, IT WASN'T LIKE WE WERE GIVEN CARTE BLANCHE TO FILM ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING WE WANTED TO.

EVERY MORNING BEFORE WE FILMED I WOULD MAKE AN ANNOUNCEMENT IN ENGLISH AND MANDARIN TO EVERYONE LETTING THEM KNOW WHAT WE WERE DOING HERE, AND LETTING THEM KNOW THEY HAD CHOICE WHETHER OR NOT THEY WANTED TO PARTICIPATE.

AND MOST PEOPLE SAID NO.

AND SO FOR US, A GOOD DAY OUT OF 90 CASES WAS ONE OR TWO WOMEN SAYING YES.

WE'RE DEALING WITH A SUBJECT MATTER THAT HAS BEEN EXTREMELY STEREOTYPED AND MISREPRESENTED IN THE MEDIA.

THERE ARE WORDS THAT ARE THROWN ON THESE WOMEN, AND THEY'RE SCARED AND FEARFUL OF THE REPERCUSSIONS OF THESE WORDS.

NOW ALL THESE WOMEN ARE WOMEN WHO RUN THE COURT AND WORKED IN THE COURT, THEY WORK TOGETHER VERY WELL.

YOU CAN SEE IN THIS FILM TO HELP THE DEFENDANTS.

BUT I GET THE SENSE THAT THEY DON'T ALL AGREE WITH EACH OTHER, BECAUSE AT ONE TIME YOU SEE ELIZA TALKING TO CANDY AND BASICALLY TELLING CANDY LOOK, IF YOU GET BACK TO THE LIFE, JUST MAKE SURE YOU DO IT IN A WAY THAT WON'T GET ARRESTED.

NO JUDGMENT HERE.

I CAN'T SEE THE JUDGE SAYING THAT OR SOME OF THE PROSECUTORS SAYING THAT.

AM I GETTING THAT RIGHT?

YOU KNOW, WHEN THAT HAPPENED, WHEN I WAS FILMING THAT, I WAS ALSO SHOCKED THAT SHE WAS SAYING THAT.

I WAS WOW, I WONDER HOW EVERYONE ELSE IS GOING THE FEEL ABOUT THIS.

BUT EVERYONE IS JUST DOING THE BEST JOB THAT THEY CAN GIVEN THEIR ROLE IN THIS SYSTEM.

BECAUSE AT THE END OF THE DAY, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR DILEMMA IS OR HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON FOR THESE WOMEN AND GIRLS, THEIR BOTTOM LINE, SHARED GOAL IS TO HELP THESE WOMEN IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM THEY CAN.

NEAR THE END OF THE FILM IS A DISTURBING SCENE WHEN WE SEE I.C.E. AGENTS ENTER THE COURT IN ORDER TO ARREST SOME OF THESE WOMEN TO LATER DEPORT THEM.

HOW CAN THIS COURT CONTINUE TO SURVIVE OR TO EXIST AS A SAFE SPACE FOR THESE WOMEN WHEN THEY CAN'T PROTECT THESE WOMEN FROM I.C.E. AGENTS THAT WANT TO TAKE THEM AND DEPORT THEM?

YEAH, THAT MOMENT IN THE FILMING PROCESS WAS REALLY, REALLY SCARY AND CHALLENGING.

AND YOU REALLY FEEL THE FRAGILITY OF THE SMALL ECOSYSTEM THAT THEY CREATED IN THIS SMALL CORNER OF NEW YORK, WHETHER OR NOT IT CAN SURVIVE OR NOT, I DON'T KNOW.

BUT IT'S STILL GOING?

THE COURT IS STILL THERE?

THE COURT IS AND THE WOMEN ARE STILL BEING ARRESTED AND I STILL EXIST AND TRUMP STILL IN POWER.

SO ALL THESE WOMEN WHO ARE IN THE COURT CAN DO IS CONTINUE TO DO THEIR BEST, GIVEN EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES THAT MAKE THIS WHOLE SYSTEM SO CHALLENGING FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS.

STEPHANIE, IT'S AN AMAZING, WONDERFUL FILM YOU.

SAID WOMEN ARE COMING TO SEE IT, BUT NOT THAT MANY MEN.

I CAN'T UNDERSTAND THAT.

IT'S A FILM FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MAKING IT.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING US.

THANK YOU.

FOR INFORMATION ON HOW YOU CAN WATCH 'BLOWIN' UP,' YOU CAN FOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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