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Sociology at the Movies

June 1, 2009

A well-made thriller that introduces the public to the increasing international problem of human sex trafficking.

A well-made movie that introduces the public to the increasing international problem of human sex trafficking.

Human trafficking, in general terms, refers to both the legal and criminal enterprises of transporting and/or selling of humans. In some studies, as approached from a sociology of crime perspective, the term directly refers to processes involved in illegally getting and selling people into slavery for prostitution and forced labor. Sadly, this industry (in reference to both prostitution and forced slavery) is estimated to generate as much as 9 billion dollars a year worldwide.

In a recent major motion picture called “Taken,” a former intelligence operative’s daughter is kidnapped in France and attempted to be sold as a sex slave. The protagonist arrives in France and, exploiting his old network and “special” skill set, recovers his daughter after the prerequisite chase scenes, hand-to-hand fights, gun battles, aerobatic break-ins, betrayed friendships, and explosions. The movie was reported to have grossed over 220 million dollars worldwide in its 16 1/2 week global release. I really enjoyed this movie, but thinking as a sociologist, I realize that many movies use social issues and problems as plot devises to drive their movies.

Some sociologists might argue that movies addressing social issues or problems are a good thing—they educate the public about the existence of a problem. Examples include “Soylent Green,” “Mississippi Burning,” “White Man’s Burden,” “1984,” and “M”. Some teachers in advanced sociology classes even show movies that address social issues in class to use as a discussion tool. Other sociologists might argue that movies can misinform the public, identify unrealistic solutions, unnecessarily frighten people, or simply exploit an infamous social problem.

Would you like to respond to this article? Do you have something you might want to add? If so, please respond to one of the discussion questions below:

1. Do you think movies addressing social problems and issues are a good thing or bad thing? Why?

2. Can you think of a movie that introduced you to a social problem or issue you were not aware of before seeing the movie? Can you describe the problem or issue? How might your experience be generalized to defend other movies that attempt to address social problems and issues?

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4 comments

  1. I think that movies addressing social issues are a good thing. This movie Reminded me of a movie with Kevin Kline in it called Trade (2007). This movie showed how Russian girls who had families and lives, went to Mexico for a chance to go to America. They were then raped by their so called friends in Mexico, and then sold as sex slaves in America.

    My understanding of Human trafficking greatly improved after I watched this movie. The Movie Taken, increased my understanding of how the girls are taken, and subsequently sold to the highest bidder.

    People like living in a bubble, feeling safe and thinking that problems are everywhere but their home; so movies that give them a reality check are a good thing. Movies like Taken that increase people’s knowledge of real issues are a good change from fake love stories, and ridiculous comedies.


  2. 1) Do you think movies addressing social problems and issues are a good thing or bad thing? Why?

    I think movies that address social problems are a good thing. Well for the most part. Yes for the purpose of entertainment some movies can go overboard, taking the issue(s) over the top that can end up misinforming the public, frighten people, and set unrealistic solutions. If people go to see this type of movie and only take it as entertainment, then I would think these issues of misinforming and frightening people wouldn’t be so much of a problem. If, on the other hand, someone was to go to this type of movie for the purpose of learning of this social issue, then yes, they will probably end up leaving thinking they know exactly how to solve it. I do believe that movies dealing with social issues are a good thing because they will put the issue out into the public eye and allow people to experience it in an entertaining way but also give them an idea of what is actually going on in the world around them and then it would be up to the audience to decide what is real and what was put on screen purely for entertainment value and what was put on screen to be informative.


  3. I think that movies that address social problems can be a good thing and bad thing. Forinstance, movies that address the glorification of drug dealing can leave a false impression on young audiences. Even though the end result sometimes of drug dealing either leaves one in jail or dead, all that they can care about is the money and power, they don’t grasp the violence and negativity that comes with it. Then there are movies such as, “Taken” that brings awareness to social issues, that some people might not be aware of. Hopefully this will make them more careful and hopefully help fight for a change so that this issue won’t go on anymore.


  4. I do think addressing those problems are a good thing. It informs the public of what does and can happen. The movie keeps you in the knowing. Otherwise who would even imagine these types of things were going on. So yes I think its a good thing.



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