Lucy Liu debuts "hard to watch" short film to raise awareness about child sex trafficking
When Meena Haseena was 8 years old, her uncle kidnapped her and sold her to a brothel. She spent more than a decade there, forced into sexual slavery. Twice, she gave birth — children she would later rescue after her escape from the brothel. It is Meena's story that Lucy Liu chose to tell for her directorial debut.
On her experiences with UNICEF
Alongside writing-directing duo The Sibs, Liu adapted Meena's story from a chapter of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's best-selling book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The resulting short film, Meena, exposes the dark world of child sex trafficking in an endeavor to help raise awareness of UNICEF's child protection programs worldwide.
Liu's work with UNICEF stretches back 10 years, when she made an unassuming phone call to the organization simply to understand what their programs were about and how they worked with children on a global level.
"I think that my worldview and how I live my life now has really been shaped by the missions that I've gone on with them," she shared, "and by meeting the people and the children on those missions."
But one trip in particular stands out in Liu's memory as especially life-changing. "I think the most impactful trip was really when I went to the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). All the areas we've been to we always have military security with us at all times but, in this particular area and this visit, it was really palpable how dangerous it was," she said. "And we were visitors... I can only imagine how it was for the kids and families themselves."
During that trip, a widely known DJ living not far from where Liu's group was staying was murdered. Tensions were high, and at times, the group felt their efforts were futile.
"There was just a feeling of real, constant danger and a constant sense of sort of trying to roll Jell-O up a hill on a hot sunny day," she explained. "It was just this constant feeling of 'How do we get past this? How do we get to the next level?' Because you just keep getting shut down, but you meet the children there, and you really got a feeling that they had a very strong sense of hope always."
On the subject of child sex trafficking
It was also on that trip that Liu saw firsthand the devastating effects of child slavery and child sex trafficking. One of the victims she met had been raped at a very young age, her body brutalized.
"When the internal organs are so destroyed, there's just no distinction between the vagina, the colon — all of it," Liu elaborated. "It was just horrible. She'd gone through some surgeries that were unsuccessful, and she was going in when I met her for her fifth surgery."
For Liu, the experience was troubling, to say the least. "I think I really was quite traumatized after that experience, but it really taught me a lot about what really is going on out there," she said. "And I think it's convinced me that it really is a lifelong journey to be a part of UNICEF or to even be a part of any NGO (non-governmental organization) that is helping children."
When asked if the subject of child sex trafficking needs to be more of a mainstream conversation, Liu said it isn't always a cut-and-dry discussion.
"I think that it's something that people don't really know what to do with, to be honest," she responded frankly. "I think if you're someone who hasn't really traveled or doesn't get involved, it's something that doesn't seem real... to have this form of slavery at this day and age — number one — and also to have it really deal with young children and infants, really."
On making a difference
By telling Meena's story through the short, Liu hopes to help bring these issues to light and start a dialogue about how we, as individuals and as a global community, can incite change.
"Human beings have the ability to make choices, and the things that are happening to children outside of and also in the United States — sex trafficking is very common in the United States — these are choices that people are making to inflict violence or abuse on kids. There's the option of not doing that, but that's not what people are choosing to do," she lamented.
"Just like with war, people are choosing to send off missiles and destroy a passenger jet with innocent people in it," she continued. "We're actually part of the destruction of what's happening in the world, and it's really a horrifying thing to live with because you don't have any control over it, so what can you do?"
For Liu's part, she leans on her spirituality — and she strives to let her actions reflect her intentions."You can live solely by example," she offered, "and you really have to find interior peace for yourself or something internal for yourself, and understand there's a greater connection to all of this."
Still, she realizes Meena will be a message that will be hard for many to hear... and see.
"I know it's a very difficult thing to watch and to see a child have any kind of abuse toward them," she admitted. "But I think when you see it visually, as opposed to hearing about it, it makes much more of an impact — and it is more of a revelation that this is actually happening and it exists."