I just finished watching the movie Born into Brothels, a documentary by Zana Briski about her time spent as a photographer in Calcutta's red light district and as a photography teacher to the children of the sex workers.
I'm thinking a lot about what it means for a western woman to spend years (on and off) in Calcutta's red light district and the idea of the western woman coming in and attempting to "save" the children from their ultimate fate of drugs and prostitution.
Briski recognizes her position as a westerner and recognizes her privileges: Her mobility to move in and out of Calcutta and the US, her networks as an established New York photographer, and her financial state to pay for this and everything needed (doctors, passports, pictures, cameras, etc) to get these kids out of the brothels and into boarding schools.
She is able to present these incredibly bright and talented children with an opportunity for a bright future, but where is the line drawn between intrusion into these families and attempting to cart away their children to boarding school and opportunity?
In the end, most of the children accepted into schools either weren't allowed to go because their parents didn't give them permission or because they decided to go home. Doesn't this say something about how welcome Briski's attempts really were? We were never given a reason why except that they had to succomb to their fate.
Overall I thought it was a great film that really showed the humanity of those deemed inhuman. It showed that these children are not just sons and daughters of whores but are super smart and talented young men and women. No matter your background and upbringing, or your fate, people really are people. I think the children really displayed this.
I also think that much of fate is what opportunities are posed to us and which opportunities we choose to grasp onto and which we choose to let go past. Or are forced to let go past, if we are even presented with opportunities at all. No matter Briski's position, she presented these children and their families with an opportunity, some grasped onto it, some were not able to, and some let it go. While her positioning among the people of Calcutta can be seen as somewhat problematic, I can't see how presenting an opportunity is. I think her positioning is a lot blurrier than exeplifying a missionary style "western woman coming to save the brown skinned women and children of India."
These are just the thoughts floating in my head after immediately watching such a powerful film. If you have seen it, I'd love to discuss!