By Jonathan Sperling
Rarely do films that cover the court system give audiences such a personal and unobstructed view into the borough’s inner workings — “Blowin’ Up” succeeds in doing just that.
The 94-minute documentary by director Stephanie Wang-Breal explores the hurdles faced by women arrested and prosecuted for prostitution-related crimes in Queens County in a uniquely raw way.
A bulk of the film is shot as short, fly-on-the-wall conversations among defendants, defendant advocates, Queens County prosecutors and Judge Toko Serita.
Serita, who expanded Queens Human Trafficking Court after taking it over from the Hon. Fernando Camacho in 2008, takes a compassionate approach to women charged with prostitution-related crimes who enter her courtroom. Defendants have the option of completing a series of classes with sexual exploitation survivor support groups — such as Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) — in exchange for having their charge dismissed and sealed.
Defendants’ futures are of great consideration to Serita, making the dismissal that much more important. Several of the defendants in the film fear that a prostitution-related charge could stifle their chances of joining the military, being accepted into college or recieving financial aid.
The film’s title, “Blowin’ Up,” refers to the act of leaving a pimp — something that several of the women profiled in the film struggle with. A running theme in the film is that some sexually exploited women in Queens stay with a pimp not due to the threat of violence, but because their traffickers often hide identifying documents, threaten to have them deported and threaten to embarrass them by telling their families about their sex work, along with other forms of bullying.
But perhaps the most important theme of the film is the fact that no two women arrested for prostitution-related charges face the same issues. While some were exploited due to their immigration status, others faced financial hardship and fear about living arrangements. They engaged in survival sex just to get something to eat or a place to stay.
At least one of the women interviewed in the film noted that she didn’t feel like she had been trafficked, rather she turned to sex work by choice.
“Blowin’ Up” will screen today at Quad Cinema, located at 34 West 13th St. in Manhattan. For showtimes and information about purchasing tickets, visit quadcinema.com/film/blowin-up/.