Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids


Best Documentary Feature Oscar, 2004. The director, Zana Briski, went into the red light district of Calcutta to photograph the women of the streets. Lee and I felt that, at first, she was sort of slumming, hoping for some really cool shots of degradation and misery. But the adults (surprise!) didn’t want to be photographed much. And as time went by, she was moved by the plight of the children who were growing up there. She came up with the idea of giving cheap cameras to the kids and letting them capture their environment themselves. Eventually she founded Kids With Cameras, which does the same thing in other slums around the world. She organized art shows of the best of their photographs, some of which are stunning, and then it got more personal with her “stars,” the best of the group, eight or nine kids entering their teen years. The girls were certainly destined for prostitution themselves, the boys destined to be pimps or drug dealers. She battled the Indian bureaucracy, which seems to exists solely to send people all over town for months getting the right stamps on endless reams of paper. This is a highly personal film, and you realize that maybe she’s not showing us her failures … but the kids we do see are managing to pull themselves out of the slime. A DVD extra returns a few years later, and the outlook for all the kids seems good. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
So it’s eight kids, right? What about the thousands of others? Well, how much could you do, living and working in that hell-hole? Myself, I’d take one Zana over a thousand Mother Teresas, that sanctimonious shitbag. Sure, she gave the lowest of the low a cot to die on … but by her idiotic and implacable opposition to birth control she made sure she’d never be out of a job, never lack for poor starving masses to take care of. She also didn’t approve of medicine or pain killers, except for herself. Screw Mother Teresa, and hurrah for Zana!