Tricked: Film Review

Tribeca Film Festival
Doc effectively argues for a smarter approach to prostitution.

Directors Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson view prostitution through the lens of human trafficking.

Introducing us to women who were forced into prostitution and a handful of law-enforcers who have seen too many just like them, Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson's Tricked aims to take the stereotype of the local pimp -- the flamboyant manipulator who lives high by convincing girlfriends to sell their bodies -- and redefine these men as the equivalent of those who run vast kidnapping-and-sex-slavery rings elsewhere on the globe.

Though convincing in its argument that pimps and clients are treated much better than they should be in our legal system as compared to prostitutes, the film presents a picture of America's sex-trade landscape that will feel incomplete to many viewers; it's best suited to small screens and educational settings, where it can start conversations without needing to be a definitive journalistic statement.

"We're treating the victims as criminals," one law-enforcer argues here, observing how often the women who wind up getting arrested and prosecuted are turning tricks because they rightfully fear for their lives if they refuse. The film suggests that all prostitution boils down to this -- its key interviewee, Danielle, epitomizes the story of the just-left-home youth who meets the wrong man and is soon trapped in a life in which she can either turn tricks or be beaten viciously. Though the filmmakers introduce us to another young woman who escaped captivity by calling an aunt who intervened, its default is to see women as people to whom things are done: A woman who is having sex for money is identified onscreen not as a prostitute but as "a prostituted woman."

The doc has no time for any woman with a different take on the subject. While most viewers will be inclined to think that reality matches the Tricked scenario far more often than it does the vision of those claiming women can be empowered by sex work, the absence of such voices weakens the film.

The directors are more inclusive when it comes to men: We meet not only journalists and vice cops (one of whom has a heartbreaking story of trying to adopt a girl so she could escape the life), but pimps and men who habitually pay for sex. While the latter are creepy in a banal sort of way, the pimps demonstrate the kind of delusional charisma ("I consider myself a good person to them," one says of his relationship to his girls) that suggests how easy it is for a teenaged girl -- particularly one from an unhappy and/or disadvantaged home -- to be seduced into a life she'd never otherwise choose.

Production Company: 3 Generations

Directors: John-Keith Wasson, Jane Wells

Producers: Jane Wells, Cristina Ljungberg

Executive producers: Nadia Zilkha

Director of photography: John-Keith Wasson

Music: Wendy Blackstone

Editors: Craig McKay, Beth Moran, Francesco Portinari, John-Keith Wasson

No rating, 74 minutes