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Akha Hill Tribe girl
Akha Hill Tribe girl.
TRADING WOMEN shatters the myths about the Southeast Asian sex trade.
Photo: David Feingold.

Akha Hill Tribe children
Akha Hill Tribe Children. TRADING WOMEN shatters the myths about the Southeast Asian sex trade.
Photo: David Feingold.

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie
Narrates TRADING WOMEN, a documentary that shatters the myths about the Southeast Asian sex trade.
Photo: David Feingold.

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... Narrated by Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie…

TRADING WOMEN, a documentary airing on Thursday, March 20 at 10:00 p.m. on TV12, shatters the myths about the Southeast Asian sex trade. Narrated by Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, the documentary investigates the trade in minority girls and women from the hill tribes of Burma, Laos and China, into the Thai sex industry. Filmed on location in China, Thailand and Burma, TRADING WOMEN follows the trade of women in all its complexity, entering the worlds of brothel owners, trafficked girls, voluntary sex-workers, corrupt police and anxious politicians. The film also explores the international community’s response to the issue.

The culmination of five years of field research, TRADING WOMEN is the first film to demonstrate to viewers the relationship of the trade in drugs to the trade of women. The film dispels common beliefs about the sex trade, such as: "The problem is the parents — it’s part of their culture to sell their daughters;" "The sex trade exists because of Western sex tours;" and "They sell their girls for TV’s."

"We take the audience behind the tourist tales and stereotyped news coverage to reveal the reality behind the myths," said David A. Feingold, the Philadelphia-based documentarian who wrote and directed TRADING WOMEN. "We show how much of what the audience thinks they know about the issue is much more complex than they imagined."

TRADING WOMEN began with a simple question: Thirty years ago, there was a thriving sex industry in Thailand, but there were no minority girls in it — what happened? The film cites the destruction of the traditional upland economy by a combination of well-meaning development and opium suppression programs in Thailand, and civil unrest, economic dislocation, and political repression in Burma as the answer to this question. These environmental and political factors have resulted in threats to both the physical and cultural survival of the highland minorities. Today, while hill tribe girls are perhaps thirty percent of the total number of sex workers in Thailand, they are disproportionably represented relative to their total numbers in the population. Moreover, they are employed in the lowest, most exploitative part of the industry.

The Thai sex industry is often presented as a reaction to the West — catering primarily to the U.S. military and ‘sex tourism.’ This is a small, easily accessed portion of the whole story. Trafficked girls do not end up in the bar streets of Bangkok that cater to Westerners. They move into a world that is far more hidden, and, as one person in the film states, "far more sinister," and far more likely to infect them with HIV/AIDS. Brothel and sex karaoke owners explain their businesses and delve into the underlying role of police corruption in the trade.

TRADING WOMEN examines the choices that hill tribe women make, and how these choices are constrained by the economic and political conditions in which they find themselves. The documentary explores how the politics of Burma determines the supply of women to the sex industry in Thailand and how the lack of citizenship for hill tribe women puts them at a greater risk for trafficking.

TRADING WOMEN also addresses the international response to the issue. "We find that it is an issue that, in the words of one United Nations official generates ‘far more heat, than light’," said Feingold. The United States has passed a law that would block World Bank loans or other non-humanitarian aid to any country that does not meet America’s minimum standards for combating trafficking. "Some believe this might be counter-productive — bringing little help to the victims and pushing the problem further underground," said Feingold.

TRADING WOMEN conveys that this is not a simple issue with simple answers. It is an issue that affects the futures not only of young tribal women, but also of their communities.
TRADING WOMEN is written and directed by David A. Feingold and produced by Dean W. Slotar and David A. Feingold of OPHIDIAN FILMS Ltd.

David A. Feingold is an anthropologist and award-winning filmmaker. His films include Terror in the Minefields for PBS’ Nova, Inside the Khmer Rouge for the BBC’s Assignment, Washington/Peru: We Ain’t Winning for CH-4 (UK) and PBS, and Angkor: Temple Under Siege for National Geographic. He has investigated political, cultural and social issues in Southeast Asia for over three decades.

Angelina Jolie serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, and has a long-standing commitment to issues affecting the children of Southeast Asia. She donated her services to this project.

Ophidian Films Ltd. was created as a company of filmmakers and anthropologists to bring important social, cultural and political issues in the contemporary world to a broad international audience. Building from a base of classic documentary and ethnographic film techniques, Ophidian seeks to shed light on challenging questions from a shared understanding of the subjects’ perspectives and knowledge, always searching for the cinematic style best suited to capture the insider’s point of view.

TRADING WOMEN has been supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation, the Else Sackler Foundation, the Spunk Fund and UNESCO.

The presenting station for TRADING WOMEN is WHYY/Philadelphia. The documentary is being made available to public television stations nationwide by American Public Television (APT).


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