Blowin’ Up chronicles a special court in Queens, New York that deals with female sex workers. This court allows women to undertake six counselling sessions to have their records wiped clean without fighting their charges. Director Stephanie Wang-Breal’s documentary gives the sex workers a platform to share their stories while examining the impact of this special court.
Blowin’ Up introduces the court’s judge, a team of prosecutors, defence attorneys, and a community activist. Wang-Breal’s film slowly drifts along as though you’re sitting in a courtroom watching an actual criminal case. It’s not Judge Judy-level loud and flashy but it is authentic. In this court, everyone works in unison to help the women who come through the system improve their lives. The forces that drive women into prostitution aren’t as black and white as movies and TV would have us believe. In many cases, women are trapped, blackmailed, and shamed into staying by vicious men. And their devastating first-hand accounts stay with you well after the film.
The court’s judge, Toko Serita, won me over right away. Early on, she senses a woman’s panic and puts her at ease with a warm smile. You understand she’s there to guide rather than punish. I marvelled at the amount of passion and enthusiasm Judge Serita and her team bring to work each day. I couldn’t cope with what they deal with on a daily basis and remain positive. They’re literally doing work that saves lives, making the film’s final stretch — as the Trump administration comes to power and threatens their work — even more heartbreaking.
Blowin’ Up opens a window into Judge Serita’s courtroom to champion the benefits of treating sex workers humanely. It’s an engaging and insightful film that may have you questioning your stance on the entire criminal justice system.
Blowin’ Up showtimes:
Tuesday, May 01, 6:45 PM, Hart House Theatre
Thursday, May 03, 12:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox 01
Saturday, May 05, 9:00 PM, Revue Cinema