Most of the women in Stephanie Wang-Breal’s inspiring new documentary “Blowin’ Up” are shot in ways that obscures their identity, as most are undocumented immigrants. Yet the film, about a pioneering court in Queens, New York that handles prostitution cases with compassion, stays true to its larger message: these anonymous women are human beings who were often coerced into criminal activity by men who took advantage of their desperate circumstances.
Of course, the criminal justice system isn’t known for taking an empathic approach, and that’s part of what makes the story of Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court (QHTIC) so unusual, according to a review in Variety. Set in a courtroom where a judge named Toko Serita treats accused women with a level of kindness that’s startling, the movie focuses on a team of legal professionals that includes a district attorney and several defense lawyers openly collaborating, united by the power of nonjudgmental benevolence. Their goal is to avoid prosecuting sex workers and instead help get them into counseling programs so that their charges can be dropped and their records expunged.
“Blowin’ Up,” which will have limited theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles, first premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and the movie’s title refers to the process of severing ties with a pimp — and, often, the entire sex-worker life. It’s an inspiring story that views these women, the majority of whom are Black or Asian, as people in need, rather than criminals, recognizing they are often victims of exploitation, mounting debts and coercion.
“Blowin’ Up” opens in NY today (April 5) and in Los Angeles on April 12.