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I want to examine how poverty and PostColonial ethics (development as discourse) are portrayed in Born into Brothels. I will do this by analyzing how the characters are presented, how the film is shot and shown.
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Born into Brothels’ is a very moving and powerful documentary of the lives of eight children born into the red-light district of Calcutta, India. It is directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. The children shown are Suchitra, Tapasi, Shanti, Puja, Kochi, Gour, Manik, and Avijit. Zana Briski shadows these children through there everyday life for years. They are each given a camera, enabling them to see the world differently through a perspective of pictures. The film catches the innocence of the life of a child, the gift of companionship, and the passion of art. I want to examine how poverty and PostColonial ethics (development as discourse) are portrayed in Born into Brothels. I will do this by analyzing how the characters are presented, how the film is shot and shown.
Throughout the film, the residents of Calcutta are portrayed as without resources and with no escape from the neighbourhood. Briski even portrays the children as “doomed” in their home neighbourhood. The severe poverty of Calcutta is seen when both Puja and Suchitra are pulled out of school and bought back in the brothels by their families. As Avijit comments, “Nobody here understands anything but money”. What I find about the descriptions of poverty in the film, is that Briski’s shows all aspects of urban poverty life, from the sorts of roads and houses that the children lived to the physical impacts of facing poverty. But, what I found most striking, is that Briski does not discuss the reasons for the mother’s poverty or the emotional and psychological hardships they encounter. The photos that are displayed in Born into Brothels involve pictures of women settling in the filthy, packed roads, and children sitting down in the filth.
In addition, the portrayals of women in the red light district are inserted with shots of young girls’ faces, witnessing eagerly, just as though they are analyzing the women and viewing their very own fates outlined out for them. The opening of the documentary incorporates passive and stylized shots of young girls’ faces, followed by pictures of rodents eating trash in the city. In one scene we see a few of the children in the vehicle and hear Briski state “I’m not a social worker. I’m not a teacher even. That’s my fear, you know, that I really can’t do anything… But without the help, they’re doomed.” Here she hints to the fate of the eight children, of whom she implies are doomed without her help. In Distant Strangers, Lichtenberg argues that reasons about others in a circumstance in which one has never experienced simply make sense where it is understandable to assume that individuals will act a specific way, yet where there are irregular, unique conditions in which an agent may ignore to act as expected. Nevertheless, she says, “if the conditions that relieve people of responsibility are pervasive, if practically every one falls short, thinking in terms of excuses makes little sense. To think this way . . . is to pathologize ordinary human psychology” (117). Such is the problem with rich people’s response to global poverty.
Furthermore, Born into Brothels embraces the white American ideas implanted with colonial histories about children in different parts of the world, in this case, India. In the film, Indian children are described as innocent, defenceless, preyed upon for prostitution, and in need of saving. Indian women, then again, their moms are described as either poor and inefficient, or hypersexual, corrupt, aggressive, selfish, brutal, and keen to prostitute their children. Briski works with the children and ultimately tries to separate them from their homes and put them in English boarding schools to allow them to get away from the assumed reality of their forced prostitution. Also, the film description of the sex industry in Calcutta and its near-total cinematic underlooks the effort local forces to change the lives of sex workers and their children show a familiar story that appeals to western ideas of rescue. Thomas Pogge’s writes “… most of the existing international inequality in standards of living was built up in the colonial period when today’s affluent countries ruled today’s poor regions of the world: trading their people like cattle, destroying their political institutions and cultures, and taking their natural resources”.Briski represents an updated version of a white, western woman who tries to save some Indian children from the threats they experience as the children of women in the sex industry. However, the film’s erasure of history works itself as a type of colonialism.
In the end, Born into Brothels just examines the bad parts of children growing up in the red light district. For example, the way by which they demonstrated the living conditions of the brothels as bad, rundown and extremely unsanitary. They just revealed family disputes, where the parents used indecent and belittling language and judgments on their children. Adults were presented as being rude, drug addicts, and not as loving guardians of children who wanted the best for them. The documentary caused the residents of the red light district to appear to be ruthless, unforgiving and ignorant , fated only to become prostitutes, and never to truly accomplish something. The film overlooked to show any good view of the area inside the brothels. They forgot about the feeling of family that these children may have or any emotional feeling of a home. Every real part of their circumstances in the brothels was mitigated or left out, to cause the situations to appear as bad as possible.
- Briski, Zana and Ross Kauffman, directors. Born into Brothels: Calcuttas Red Light Kids.
- Collste, Göran. “‘… Restoring the Dignity of the Victims’. Is Global Rectificatory Justice Feasible?” Ethics & Global Politics, vol. 3, no. 2, 2010, pp. 85–99., doi:10.3402/egp.v3i2.1996.
- Lichtenberg, Judith. Distant Strangers: Ethics, Psychology, and Global Poverty. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
 Briski, Zana and Ross Kauffman, directors. Born into Brothels: Calcuttas Red Light Kids.
 Lichtenberg, Judith. Distant Strangers: Ethics, Psychology, and Global Poverty. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
 Collste, Göran. “‘… Restoring the Dignity of the Victims’. Is Global Rectificatory Justice Feasible?” Ethics & Global Politics, vol. 3, no. 2, 2010, pp. 85–99., doi:10.3402/egp.v3i2.1996.
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