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7 Prisoners: The Movie

May 11th, 2022

Now and then a good movie comes along that really provides an insight into a particular social issue or topic. A few examples of this include: Platoon, which for me depicted the true horror of the Vietnam War; Blood Diamond, which showed how the diamond trade was dominated by criminals and traffickers; and the Killing Fields, which profiled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, based on the experiences of two journalists.

One movie that does an amazing job of portraying the issue of forced labour and how it unfolds in a typical situation is “7 Prisoners” (2021). This story, which is based in Brazil, offers the audience an accurate portrayal of a typical forced labour situation in which the victims are identified, recruited, broken in, and forced to comply. What I really appreciated about the movie was that it walked the audience through the gradual process of grooming victims in a way that helped the viewers to understand the nuances and subtleties.

When I do a typical presentation on the topic of forced labour and supply chains, I talk about the range of issues addressed by the United Nations and the International Labour Organization, including: debt bondage, deception, threats, document retention, violence, confinement, forced overtime, lost freedom of movement, and more. As this story unfolded, all of these elements were introduced in a way that was natural and organic. The way the storyline played out, a light was shined on the trafficking process that offered true clarity. For many, this film will fill in the gaps that we have in our mind related to the human trafficking process and how it unfolds.

Another aspect of the film that I found interesting and relevant was how the story avoided creating a black and white depiction of good and evil. The back stories related to the traffickers offered a glimpse into how they came to take on these roles. One of the victims is also shown going through this process as he transitions from a victim to part of the established trafficking hierarchy. This is a familiar outcome in many trafficking stories.

For me, this form of education-entertainment is a great way to increase awareness. A good movie allows us to take abstract ideas and relate them to our understanding of real life. This makes the content and the message simple to understand. If told well, a dramatic movie can achieve several goals simultaneously, as the following list shows:

  • A Natural Form of Communication: Depicting a social issue in a movie is an effective way to motivate, teach and advocate. We all enjoy stories and can relate to this form of communication.
  • Common Experiences: Because many of us share similar life experiences, as a movie plot unfolds, there is often instant recognition. We understand what is being portrayed because we have experienced similar things ourselves.
  • Chronology: Movie scripts offer chronological details to help the viewer understand and remember a series of events, steps or actions leading up to a specific outcome.
  • Expectations: As human beings, we are naturally curious. When a story is being told, we want to know what the outcome will be. We wonder, “Where is this story going? How will it end? What happens next?” Our sense of expectation keeps us watching. Few other forms of communication instill this “need to know” anticipation.
  • Emotional Response: A good movie allows us to relate emotionally to what is being shown and can evoke any number of different emotions. Injustice can make us angry. We can be inspired when someone does something extraordinary. We can laugh out loud at absurd situations. Simply put, we are drawn to stories because they trigger our emotions.
  • Learning from Others: Through storytelling we can learn a great deal from the experiences of others. If a story describes how a person got themselves into a bad situation, it can be used as a warning to stop people making the same mistake.
  • Validating and Comparing our Values: Stories allow us to relate to common opinions and feelings. If the outcome of a story is inconsistent with our views, it challenges us to reconsider those views.

While the characters presented in “7 Prisoners” were fictional, an attempt was made to provide a “generalized scenario” that depicted the real-life experience that so many men and boys were forced to endure as victims of this modern-day slave trade. I feel that this film will allow viewers to understand the problem from not only an intellectual level, but also from an emotional one. Consider checking it out. It is worth the ride.

Author: Matthew Friedman

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