"If there wasn't such a need, there wouldn't be so much business, now would there?"
--Doug Jones, Candy Shop Owner, The Candy Shop
Many of my friends and family may remember back in November when I first came upon the trailer for a disturbing short film entitled The Candy Shop: A Fairy Tale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children. According to the Whitestone Motion Picture's Vimeo account description, The Doorpost Film Project, in conjunction with StreetGrace and 12Stone Church, commissioned the film as an initiative to call attention to the statistics surrounding the "epidemic" of the trafficking of child sex slaves through Atlanta, Georgia. Having seen the film, I feel my old anger incensed, and ask that my readers bear in mind that this tale reflects numbers that have not changed much in the last one hundred years
The Candy Shop is a short film, only thirty minutes long, and in those thirty minutes director Brandon McCormick (Fear Itself, Blood on My Name) has crammed the frightening tale of young Jimmy, a boy who works multiple jobs to pay for his sick mother's care. He notices a candy shop across from the produce stand he works for that is frequented only by men, whose discreet purchases include gorgeously wrapped pieces of candy. Despite the fact that Jimmy is aware that the business conducted in the shop is odd, even disgusting, this does not stop him from almost falling into the shop keeper's hands. His desire for money leads him down into the basement of the shop, where the old shop keeper, disguised cleverly in clown make-up, shows him the machine that makes the candy.
|Picture of Freak and Child courtesy of zombiecatproductions.com|
"Girls go in, and candy comes out," the shop keeper trills.
Jimmy promises to think on it, and the shop keeper sweetens the deal by handing him a ten dollar bill (no small amount in those days). Fully intending to take the job, Jimmy notices a friend of his disappear into the shop. He follows her, and the shop keeper, who remains nameless, tells him to throw the switch sending his friend, Nancy, through the candy maker. Unable to destroy his friend, Jimmy balks and tries to sabotage the machine. After an intense fight, the shop keeper succumbs to his own invention. Jimmy is able to restore Nancy along with several others. However, not all of the girls can be saved, and as the public becomes aware of the atrocities, frantic parents come forward to claim children they had given up for dead. The film closes on Jimmy and Nancy defacing an advertisement for a confectioner selling prize candy.
The Candy Shop is not just a horror story; the film is an extended metaphor for the way children seemingly disappear into the system. Doug Jones--famous for his role(s) in Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth--plays the Candy Shop owner, a decrepit, lecherous old man who sells "candy" to the lecherous older men of early twentieth century Atlanta. Barely recognizable, again, in aging prosthetics disguised under grease-paint, his gnarled hands covered by harmless white gloves, this is perhaps his most frightening role since the Hand-Eye guy from Pan's Labyrinth. He has no name, but like the human trafficking racket, has many faces, all of them disguised by niceties and protected by powerful figures with sordid intentions. Mattie Liptak plays Jimmy, the unassuming boy swept up in the game who must rise above his material pursuits and make the right choice to save his friend.
The film illustrates the major arguments made by activists: that the human sex trade is as alive today as it was in our country's past, that it has many faces, and that as soon as one king pin is eliminated another one will take his place. Like the heinous villains of Law&Order: SVU, the purveyors of flesh often hide behind masks of corporate professionalism, using their wealth or connections (both legal and illegal) to hide their licentious acts. They are hard to take down, but when they do fall, the crash is heard throughout the entire racket. Other king pins will lay low until the heat dies down before re-emerging to resume their activities, as is illustrated by the exposure of The Candy Shop being negated by the rise of The Confectionist at the end of the film.
It is a never ending cycle, daunting to those who consider it their personal crusade the end it, but that does not hinder those devoted to stopping the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the hopelessness of the cause, Nancy pointedly says to Jimmy, "We have to try." According to Whitestone's Vimeo account and the statistics quoted at the end of the film, over 500 under-aged girls are trafficked through Atlanta every month. Add that to University of Texas San Antonio's own InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's standing statistic that 20 percent of human trafficking from Latin American countries takes place along the I-35 Corridor, taking a percentage of half of the victims sold into domestic slavery under the age of 18 through good old San Antonio (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship "Price of Life" Campaign). As a native San Antonian, this knowledge is both angering and sobering.
The Candy Shop has received criticism ranging anywhere from avid praise to blatant disgust. Despite a general outcry against the film's negative portrayal of Atlanta, the initiative seems to have opened a lot of hearts and wallets to the subject. One argument made in the film's favor is that the film medium is often more adhered to than documentary film and bland statistics, which can be inflated or made up. Instead of hitting us with disturbing images of police raids and meaningless numbers, McCormick's film dramatizes the parable in a short film with dark insinuations and obvious statements made by the characters. While not providing much in the way of solid entertainment, it suits the purpose of the film. This has the affect of irritating viewers not wholly educated on the initiative.
I encourage anyone interested to watch the film and take part, at least in spirit, in the initiative to stop child sex trafficking. Those willing to do more will find listening ears at Street Grace, 12Stone Church, Whitestone Motion Pictures, and local advocacies devoted to "stopping the Candy Shop". Like the girls forever trapped as pieces of candy in Nancy's gentle hands, not everyone can be saved, but the future for those trapped in the racket will be less bleak for our efforts.
A full version of the film can be found on Whitestone's Vimeo page at www.vimeo.com, key word "The Candy Shop". Watch the full version and get Doug Jones' take on the film initiative at http://www.thedougjonesexperience.com/.
The road to breaking the cycle ends before it begins when the good people of the world do nothing.