Stars of SA child trafficking movie hope it will lead to social change

'I Am All Girls' follows two detectives as they embark on a justice-seeking journey to bring down the heads of a child trafficking ring.

'I Am All Girls' stars Hlubi Mboya in the lead role as ‘Ntombizonke’ and Erica Wessels as her determined colleague, ‘Jodie Synman’. Picture: Netflix/Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG – The South African movie about child sex trafficking I Am All Girls landed on Netflix on Friday and its cast has taken us through the challenges they faced during filming and the lessons learnt.

The film is about a child sex trafficking syndicate operating out of South Africa. The story follows two detectives as they embark on a justice-seeking journey to bring down the heads of the trafficking ring.

It stars Hlubi Mboya in the lead role as Ntombizonke and Erica Wessels as her determined colleague Jodie Synman.

Speaking to Eyewitness News Lifestyle ahead of the premiere, director Donovan Marsh said the cast faced some challenges, but the film came out beautifully.

“It’s very stressful in films like these, there are emotions and you even wonder how you’re going to get it right… also keeping everyone confident and keeping the spirits up. There’s a lot of challenges emotionally, but your job is to project confidence.”

Lead actor Mboya pointed out how the topic of child sex trafficking was something she wanted to learn more about.

“What does the South African Constitution and judiciary say about this? How and where do they get sentenced? Just taking it beyond and opening up that knowledge base for the ordinary citizen, constitutionally. What are our rights when we see something going on? I think that’s a place I would love to explore as an individual and someone who is hungry to know more about it.”

She said reporting such crimes in South Africa was still a battle for most and she hoped that the justice system would one day be overhauled to accommodate gender-based violence and trafficking victims and handle these cases with the sensitivity they deserved.

As Mboya would love to explore more around this topic in the arts sectors, Marsh has an idea of how that can be achieved.

“The issue of human trafficking has been explored in a number of movies that I’ve seen, but locally, this is the first one. I hope it opens up the avenue for people to think about this as something you can tell stories about. I think it can make a tremendous TV series; I’d love to see a documentary series based on real stories of survival, even if you dramatise the stories that we’ve learnt. I mean I’ve got so much great research that shows what’s going on. There are millions of amazing, heart-wrenching stories and it would be amazing if they could come to the screen someway.”

WATCH: I Am All Girls | Official Trailer

Brendon Daniels, who plays investigating officer Samuel Arendse, agrees that the more the topic is explored in the entertainment industry, they more awareness would be raised.

“The more we can explore these things, the quicker the healing can take place. The awareness needs to be created and sustained.”

Wessels is also keen on exploring the topic more, which leaves us wondering if the cast could perhaps work on a sequel or series: “I can imagine doing a series on this. It would be awesome to flesh it out to the next part, which is telling people what the signs are, how to spot a trafficked person, how to spot a pimp - what it practically looks like and who to call to get help.”

For Daniels, shooting this movie opened up his eyes to a whole new world: “I had never heard a person who was trafficked speak about their experiences and that’s what I was exposed to while filming this movie. Also, just the sheer scale of it all, but also people become commodities… that is the most unsettling thing of all.”

The movie brings to life two women who are fighting demons within themselves while also fighting this monster – the trafficking syndicate – for the greater good of humankind.

But Mboya warned about what happens when humans fight monsters: “Trauma, vigilantism, love and protection are all really strong actions I believe in. And it just shows the power of the heart and what would define a person’s right and wrong. That’s why these two women have demons individually and when they come together, they try to override that because they’ve got one set of goals and that is to bring traffickers down. But demons are what we’re trying to fight within ourselves; Ntombi is a perfect example of when you try to bring down a monster, just be careful not to turn into that monster yourself.”

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But as much as this is just a movie, the theme is a reality. Mboya said exercising caution around your child’s internet access might help them avoid getting into such situations.

“For me, because everything now has gone online, as parents we need to be careful about the access we give to our kids. Human trafficking is very real and there’s a thing called child grooming, so just be careful about who your child is interacting with on social media. We tweet among rapists, kidnappers and traffickers; we just have to raise our consciousness around where and what we put on social media.”

However, her co-star Wessels pointed out that most of the trafficked girls were from poor backgrounds, and might not even have a cellphone to access the internet with.

“What is shocking to me is that these kids just disappear into thin air and no one knows about it. A lot of these kids are sold by their parents who are trying to survive... that shocked me.”

She said teaching your child about self-worth might just help save their lives as traffickers often target the broken parts in these children and use that to keep them in brothels.

“Learning the stats was just shocking. The fact that not even 1% of them are found and just knowing that the trafficked kids are already poor and come from broken backgrounds.”

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