In the latest bizarre sex scandal to hit Hollywood, actresses auditioning for a new Ashley Judd film on sex trafficking say they were forced to undergo scenes of “simulated rape” during auditions that were controversial enough that the director was removed from the project.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Trafficked” — an indie drama about the sex trade — premiered in New York City on Oct. 5, the same day Judd’s accusation of sexual misconduct against mega producer Harvey Weinstein was one of many such accusations published in a New York Times exposé.
“Inspired by real characters, three girls from America, Nigeria, and India are trafficked through an elaborate network and enslaved in a Texas brothel,” the description of the movie at Rotten Tomatoes reads. “Together, they attempt a daring escape to reclaim their freedom.”
However, given both the timing of its release and the material depicted within, one of the more bizarre (and unreported) aspects of “Trafficked” is that director Will Wallace was quietly removed “during postproduction over a disagreement involving the depiction of rape,” The Hollywood Reporter revealed.
And from there, things began looking worse for Wallace. According to THR, a controversy has broken out over whether a “small group audition callback session simulating a brothel scenario was inappropriately handled, to the unnecessary physical and emotional detriment of performers who participated in the hope of landing a key role in the project.”
One of the actresses told The Hollywood Reporter that the scene being rehearsed “played out with her hair pulled, neck licked, body pushed against a wall and a fellow actor simulating rape by ‘pretending to force his penis in me.’ She added, ‘He was making grunting sounds and I was just crying and laying there.’”
The actress, Sanchita Malik, who was 20 at the time, told the paper she “suffered from chronic panic attacks long afterward, which required therapy.”
Responding to the report, producers Conroy Kanter and Siddharth Kara said that while the claims were “deeply distressing,” they said Malik’s description involved “a significant embellishment and exaggeration of the level of intensity, crudeness and physicality of the casting session” — and that her complaint was only filed after she failed to land the part she wanted.
However, some reviewers noted that the film’s content didn’t seem quite appropriate, given the subject matter.
In a Los Angeles Times review that could be best summed up by its headline — “Sex slavery shouldn’t be seen as erotic as it appears in ‘Trafficked’” — writer Robert Abele notes that “Wallace’s lurid direction fuses harrowing moments of rape, punishment and murder with sexualized lighting and mustache-twirling performances without ever proving insightful about how this system operates in the real world outside its resemblance to a grindhouse movie.”
Judd’s performance, and the hypocrisy inherent, did not escape Abele either: “One kick is longtime trafficking activist Ashley Judd in the role of a two-faced social worker surreptitiously feeding girls into the slave system,” Abele writes.
“Considering recent abuse-scandal headlines made so in part through Judd’s own bravery in speaking up, one imagines she had plenty to draw on to play someone who pretends outwardly to help while really harboring a secret, nefarious agenda.”
Abele was not alone in his contempt for “Trafficked,” which currently holds a cataclysmically low 17 percent on the vaunted Tomatometer. “Tackling a serious subject but looking like a bad after-school special, this drama is terribly forced and indelicate; it tries to deliver an important message but feels more like a cheap thriller,” Jefferey M. Anderson of Common Sense Media wrote.
A film gone wrong is nothing new in Hollywood, but one that treats a deadly serious topic like human trafficking with what appears to be all the delicacy of the kind of stuff that aired on Cinemax in the wee hours of the morning back during the late 1980s borders on inexcusable.
At the very least, it shows the hypocrisy of Hollywood, particularly since one of its most vocal crusaders against this sort of thing seems to have given it her imprimatur by appearing in it.
We don’t know what happened behind the scenes during the making of “Trafficked.” However, given the reviews and the quiet ushering of the director out the back door during post-production, we can at least say that Ms. Malik’s complaints have some credibility.
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H/T U.K. Daily Mail