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06/30/2006: "The "Rescue" Dilemma"

This fall, some months ago, I threw my two cents into a discussion about the issues the documentary "Born into Brothels," raised for the youth media field. In this well known documentary British-born photojournalist Zana Briski immerses herself into an impoverished and illegal neighborhood in Calcutta, India. Briski befriends the children of Sonagachi (the city's red light district), starts a photography workshop for them and equips them with cameras. As the kids grow with their new found art, the filmmakers struggle to help them.

You can see what other people who have handed cameras to kids say on the Youth Media Reporter site.

As one respondent wrote "anyone who has worked with young people at the 'sharp-end' of life will know how easy it is to become embrolled into thinking we can 'save' them. And a harsh and necessary voice wrote, "Zena'a (the film maker) racist behaviour is masked by her liberal white guilt." While another wrote "I don't think you throw out the baby with the bathwater: meaning, yes, we need to fight to end poverty, racism and sexual exploitation of women in India and throughout the world. But that's a tall order to wipe out thousands of years of oppression. Meanwhile, do we leave kids to languish in despair for a larger cause?"

Here is what I added:
Last week I ambivalently joined Netflix (unsure what it will do to small less "popular" documentaries and the use of media with educational audiences and as an activist tool) and put this movie at the top of the list. I bookmarked Ken's article and was glad to read it after seeing the film, which made me rather uncomfortable. I wish the movie could have raised, within it some of these issues this discussion is raising so well. I've spent a lot of time doing video and photography with teens in Los Angeles and Alaska. I too am a white artist who, as an Alaska Native activist I worked with told me pointedly and often, comes from resources. Iíve also worked in an Alaskan village and had a non-Native school superintendent say something to me like ďdonít think anything you do with these kids will change their livesÖthey will never leave this village.Ē I guess I never thought Iíd save the kids, push them to go to Stanford or Yale, or run for president, but I watched the students see their own potential and see that they had a voice. They taught me a lot too and so did their families. How to evaluate the results (another issue that youth workers and project coordinators run into) Iím not sure, but the dialogue about doing this work needs to continue. Documentaries like "Born into Brothels" are something accessible to the so called mainstream, or to the folks who might watch a well-marketed documentary in a theater or rent it from Netflix. So a film like this could be a tool to raise awareness that can perhaps provoke people to change their personal behavior and challenge their government. I donít think it was crafted or distributed in a way to do this, but it could have been.