Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stephanie Hepburn & Rita Simon's "Human Trafficking Around the World"

Stephanie Hepburn was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Scottish and Colombian immigrants, and grew up in Columbia, Maryland. She is an independent journalist whose work has been published in Americas Quarterly, USA Today U-Wire, and Gender Issues. She is a weekly and monthly contributing writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Her book with Rita J. Simon, Women’s Roles and Statuses the World Over, was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice.

Rita J. Simon is University Professor at American University in Washington, DC. Her research interests and primary areas of concentration in academic work are law and society; the jury system; immigration policies and public opinion; trans-racial adoption; women and the criminal justice system; women's issues; and Israeli society. She has published over sixty books in these fields.

Here Hepburn shares some ideas for adapting their new book, Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight, for the cinema:
Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight is non-fiction, but in addition to critical statistics that are necessary for giving as close to an accurate image as possible of the extent of human trafficking in the world, the book is packed full of stories, which to me are the glue and heart of the book. It isn’t just one person’s story that is told. There are many and so I view the book -- in part -- as a compilation of stories of the human trafficking experience all over the world.

Below is a true story that I believe is compelling, heart wrenching and illustrates the strength of the human spirit:

Mani was born a slave in Niger. Traditional slavery (a form of human trafficking) is not uncommon in Niger among minority ethnic groups such as the Toureg, Maure and Peule. At the age of 12 Mani’s master sold her to Naroua as a fifth wife (sadaka), which meant that she was acquired to work as both servant and concubine. She was raped and beaten any time Naroua found her disobedient. Mani, with the help of local attorneys and human rights organizations, exhausted her options in Niger. In fact, one Nigerien judge ruled, improperly, that a freed slave girl is the de facto wife of her master. This illustrates the strength of customary practices, which often prevails over law. Instead of backing down Mani brought a case against the Nigerien government before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice for failure to implement laws against slavery.

The verdict was groundbreaking. The court held that Niger had the opportunity and obligation to protect Mani when she came before them and awarded her $22,626.94 in restitution. Although discrimination against women and traditional slavery continue in Niger, the Mani case opened up a much-needed national dialogue on the practice of slavery. After the decision Mani said:
It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same. I hope that everybody in slavery today can find their freedom. No woman should suffer the way I did. With the compensation I will be able to build a house, raise animals, and farmland to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed as a slave.
The decision is enormously significant, but what is striking is the will and endurance of a person who has been told from her first breath that she is not equal and that she has no rights. She withstood rape, mental and physical abuse and improper arrest and still maintained the willpower to push forward with cases against the person who enslaved her and also the government that failed her.

Thandie Newton would be a good fit for Mani. To me the character needs to show vulnerability and an internal strength of spirit that will endure and stand up to an entire nation that ignores her plight.

For Narou – the man who enslaved Mani – I think of Don Cheadle. The viewer needs to be able to see his struggle with understanding the concept of freedom, and his struggle to let go of his ownership and possession of Mani. His character will be understandably disliked, but he needs to be presented in a complex – not flat – fashion.

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund (City of God/Cidade de Deus) would be excellent choices for directors.
Visit Stephanie Hepburn's website, and learn more about Human Trafficking Around the World at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Human Trafficking Around the World.

--Marshal Zeringue