B+ Social issue drama

Written by Jeffrey Dean Brown and Joseph Kwong

Directed by Jeffrey Dean Brown

Sold is a message movie. The filmmakers want you to know that something horrible is going on, and that we all need to do something about it. The film has the sort of single mindedness of message that we’ve learned to expect in documentaries, but seldom find in a narrative fiction film like this one.

In Sold‘s favor, the message is an important one, and we all really should be doing something about it. Every year, millions of children are kidnapped or sold into slavery–often sexual slavery that forces them into prostitution. The parents go along with it, at least some times, because they have been lied to; they think their children will have better lives elsewhere.

Sold dramatizes this huge crime by concentrating on one 13-year-old victim, Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia). Taken from her home in rural Nepal under false pretenses (she was told she’d be doing housework for a rich family), she winds up in a brothel.

Her life soon becomes horrible. Rape is constant. So is cruelty and torture–punishments for any sign of resistance. There are bars on her window, and not to keep burglars out.

But it’s not as if escaping is a reasonable alternative. What could she do? To be a prostitute outside of her prison would be worse than being one inside. And shamed parents don’t want to take their “disgraced” children back.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they show that life isn’t horrible 24/7. Lakshmi finds friendship and camaraderie with other imprisoned prostitutes. She especially bonds with the young son of an older prisoner.

As she becomes acclimated to the horrible conditions, she finds secret ways to rebel, and begins working on a plan to escape, despite the dangers.

If the film had stuck with Lakshmi, I would easily have given it an A. Unfortunately, there’s a subplot, following a group of good people working against this exploitation. This subplot seems to be inserted for two reasons:

  1. So that the movie can preach directly to audiences about the horrors of child prostitution, and how they’re working to fix the problem.
  2. So that the film could have two white, American movie stars–Gillian Anderson and David Arquette–playing good guys. (Anderson, who plays a photographer just arrived in India, has the role of the newbie whom everyone has to explain things to so the audience can hear the explanations.)

Although shot and set in Nepal and India, with a Nepalese protagonist, this is very much a British/American film. Director Jeffrey D. Brown lives in the Bay Area. British actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson is an executive producer. The dialog is all in English.

For a while, I thought this was going to be a white savior movie, where the blonde American saves the helpless brown girl. I’m happy to say that that didn’t happen.

Sold is a very good film with a very important message. If the picture had stuck with its protagonist, it might have been a great film.

Warning: Spoilers below

Arquette’s character connects with Lakshmi by pretending to be customer, telling her that there’s a safe place in the city she can get to if she successfully escapes.

And she does escape by her own resourcefulness, and gets to that place, an orphanage called Hope House. The film has a very happy ending.

But Sold would have been so much more effective, with an even happier ending, if we, like her, couldn’t be sure that this safe house was real until she got there.