South Memphis teens who traded in childhood dreams of being astronauts, ballerinas, and princesses for the grim reality of lives as prostitutes and pimps are profiled in the new short film, Funky.
Christian Loriel Lucas, a South Memphis native and author, wrote Funky's screenplay, which she adapted from her 2011 poetry book of the same title. The book and film tackle the hardships of pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, and desperate mothers in South Memphis.
The film is set in the area's Riverside community, a neighborhood where Lucas has witnessed sex trafficking plague youth. She's hoping to shed some light on the prevalence of commercial sexual exploitation in Memphis and around the world.
"Human trafficking is not something that we should shy away from talking about. It's happening all over the world," Lucas said. "I wanted to portray it on the screen. We grew up out there. We saw the addicts and the violence. We knew women who were prostitutes. It's a reality, but in the midst of that negative reality, we wanted to point out that all of those people, from the addicts to the drug dealers, were kids at one point in time, and they all had some type of dream."
Funky is themed around Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem," and the inquiry posed within it: "What happens to a dream deferred?" Both the characters and poems from Lucas' book are used in the film as a world of prostitution, murder, and deception unfolds.
Janet Rogers is a fictional character in Funky. Once an aspiring ballerina, her dreams are derailed after falling for neighborhood pimp Larry Washington. While battling the negative impacts that come with prostitution, she reflects on her childhood dreams as an escape from her undesirable circumstances.
Another character is Dara Jackson, a naive high school teen who likes Washington but is unaware that Washington is involved in trafficking women. As a result of her infatuation, she finds herself caught in a life-changing situation.
Raphael Baker, also a South Memphis native and the director of Funky, said he and Lucas witnessed real-life circumstances similar to Jackson's while growing up in Riverside.
"Younger girls would date older men, and they ended up tricking them into doing whatever they wanted them to do," said Baker, a cinematographer and fashion photographer. "They got caught up in a lifestyle that they shouldn't be in."
Human trafficking is a thriving criminal enterprise. According to the National Association of Attorneys General, the illegal practice generates up to $32 billion in annual profits.
Presently, there are 14 sex trafficking cases pending prosecution by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee's Civil Rights Unit.
"The commercial sex trafficking industry in West Tennessee continues to be a pervasive problem," said Brian Coleman, chief of the district's Civil Rights Unit. "It is well-known that Memphis is a distribution hub for many industries because of its geographical location. Unfortunately, this is what makes Memphis such a focal point for sex trafficking. A pimp can transport women and sometimes minors, for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex, to multiple states within hours."
Funky has been entered into film festivals in Nashville, Austin's South by Southwest, and Indie Memphis. But more than festival recognition, Lucas and Baker hope Funky brings more awareness to sex trafficking and its adverse impact on so many lives.
"Everybody's dream is important; everybody has one, no matter where you're from," Lucas said. "And I thought it was fitting to show the image of what happens when a little girl gets her dream stomped on and crushed."