BY SARA MILLER
On the streets, they call it a “game.”
However, for the hundreds of young Canadian women who walk the dangerous and dark streets of prostitution, it’s anything but a “game.”
They come from different paths of life. Some are runaways and come from broken homes while others grew up in middle-income neighborhoods around the city. However, despite their starting position, their paths lead down a similar road.
Often kidnapped, beaten and abused, these women are exploited and forced to commit sexual acts for money, but often never see a dime. Their pimps control and groom them, mentally manipulating their minds into thinking that their abuse is nothing but an act of “love”. But it is far from it.
When we hear the word “sex trafficking”, we often conjure up images of women being smuggled across the boarder and sent overseas to far off lands. But the reality is, many of those women usually never make it to the border. In fact, most don’t even leave the city.
In the short film titled “Truth”, playwright and director Cheryl Nembhard tackles the growing dilemma of sex trafficking in our own city and throughout Canada. Starring Omar Reid, Christie Maingot, Profeci Beckford Allen, Tianna Hyatt, Vanessa Mitchell and Kyla Dewey, the film had its first premiere to a large gathering of supporters at the Kingsway Life Centre in Toronto.
Centering around the character named Lexi (Christie Maingot) who is mixed up in the world of prostitution, her compelling tale gives a face to the harsh reality that is shared by many in her profession.
Not one to shy away from tough issues, Nembhard has a way of sparking dialogue with her plays and films. Through her multimedia company Exousia Media Group (EMG), she has produced several theatrical productions that address the topics of gang violence, drug addiction, child molestation, depression and more. Made up of several talented local men and women, EMG uses all facets of the creative arts to address contemporary topics. Her 2013 film “The Son” which focused on parental abandonment was the recipient of over fifteen festival nominations and winner of five awards including “Best Short Film” and “Best Screenplay”. Her other productions include “Women of Color”, “The Victory and King of Glory” and “The Ultimate Sacrifice” which sold out performances at Mirvish’s Panasonic Theatre.
The evening also included the debut of the short film “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” which tells the story of a teenager named Jessica and her struggle with depression and self-harm. A topic that is more relevant than ever in todays society, the film gives viewers a raw depiction of Jessica’s depression through the eyes of an adolescent and the steps she needed to take to overcome her disorder. Like Jessica, the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental disorder with 5% of males and 12% of females ages twelve to nineteen experiencing a major depressive episode.
In attendance at the film premiere was a special panel of guest speakers who answered and talked to audience members about the subject of the two films. The guest speakers included Marissa Kokkoros, Rosalia Alfonso, Sanait Litchmore, Sherry Stahl, Katrina Macleod, Mirlo Liendo and John Cassells. With expertise ranging in social work, mental health, women rights avocation as well as personal experiences, each guest gave great insight pertaining to the films.
At the end of the evening, Nembhard got on stage to give not only thanks but also a call for everyone in the theatre to do their part in continuing the dialogue about the subjects in the film.
“If we don’t talk or acknowledge it, then we don’t speak about it. The truth is, there is a world that is hurt, broken and suffering and if we do nothing to make a difference, then we are wasting our time,” Nembhard said to the audience.
“I grew up in a hard and tough environment and every story that I put out has a thread of my life entwined in it. I stand in front of you as a person who is telling you that it is possible to make a difference in someone’s life. That person can be the change that will possibly help thousands.”