12162017Headline:

Movie Review: Whores’ Glory

I watched a documentary called “Whores’ Glory” this week.

Whores' Glory still

I think the meaning behind the title is lost on a lot of people. I read a lot of reviews (though none by critics), and nobody seemed to get it.

Either the filmmakers were too discreet (they weren’t), or people just didn’t pay attention to the film beyond the fact that it was about prostitution.

First, a little context: this is a documentary about prostitution in three places—Bangkok, Bangladesh, and Reynosa, Mexico. Prostitution is depicted as a very different institution in each location. The systems are different, and the women involved are different.

A commonality that many people did not seem to pick up on is that spirituality plays a role in all these women’s’ lives.

Hence, the “Glory” in the title.

This is a raw film in many ways. I liked the lack of voiceover narration. There was no thoughtful Morgan Freeman-esque narrator guiding my thoughts, or pointing things out. There was nobody laying morals out and judging the women on screen.

That said, what a camera chooses to focus on, and what editors choose to leave in and take out, does a pretty decent job of guiding your thoughts all by itself.

 

Bangkok, Thailand

The Fishtank is an establishment where girls sit behind a glass partition on display, like mannequins in a storefront, while johns on the other side sit at tables, drinking and trying to decide which girl they’d like to order that night.

While it seemed that most of the girls did get involved in sex work because of poverty, they did not seem depressed or forced. They had fun primping before going into “the Fishtank,” they smiled a lot, and joked with each other behind the glass partition (where their conversation couldn’t be heard by the johns on the other side). We get to hear their giggling exchanges, where they talked about their home life and their jobs.

“It’s more fun here, because you have people to chat with,” said one. “My family gives me money, but I don’t like that. I’d rather earn my own money.”

“But it’s boring to just put on my makeup and sit around!” said another. “It’s no fun if no one picks you!”

We also follow the girls out on the street, where they stop at streetside spirit houses to light incense and say prayers, their folded hands clasped to their bowed foreheads, as they prayed to get a lot of clients. They offered honors to a small shrine in the Fishtank itself—slipping off their shoes before going in, and kneeling to touch a few sacred objects before taking their places with the other girls.

Faridpur, Bangladesh

The Red Light District in Faridpur was by far the most depressing of the three locations. The living conditions here were cramped, with girls for sale standing outside their rooms in narrow, dimly lit hallways, crowded with people. Some of them looked as young as twelve.

Long, still camera shots showed somber girls standing against the wall, or sitting on cheap-looking chairs outside their rooms. They did not look happy or laugh. They did not chat with one another like friends, and we did not follow them out of the brothel—I got the sense that they rarely, if ever, were allowed to leave the brothel.

They blessed their doorways with water, pouring it from recycled soda bottles into their hands, and sprinkling it over the entrances to their rooms. One girl did the same with fire, lighting a bunch of twisted-up magazine pages, and sweeping the flames along her doorframe and her bed. She dropped the flaming bundle and passed her hands and feet over the flames quickly, then swept the smoke over her face and hair.

This part was, frankly, depressing. The stories these girls shared were horrific compared to what the girls in Thailand shared. They spoke with a kind of bleak poetry that broke my heart. It was clear that many of them were forced into prostitution to pay off debts, and to escape poverty—but they had not really escaped anything.

“Don’t laugh,” said one to another, as they sat side by side, telling stories to the camera.

“I can’t help it!” said the laughing girl.

“Laughter always brings sadness, too,” said the first one.

The laughing girl stopped giggling, but she wouldn’t agree to be sad. “Why cry? I’ve cried enough for a lifetime. I can’t help it, I have to laugh.”

The sad girl said, “Laughing, crying, both are a part of life. No one can see what is buried deeper. There is so much sorrow and pain. We try to forget sadness with a little laugher. But the pain still remains.”

These girls looked no older than fourteen.

One young girl—too young—tells us about her customers, some of whom treated her well, but not all of them. Regardless, she gets sad when no customers come, because then she has to worry about her madam’s anger.

She goes silent for a long time, then summons her voice again. “There’s something else I’d like to say. We women are actually very unhappy creatures. It is very hard to survive as a woman. Why do women have to suffer this much? Isn’t there another path for us? Is there a path at all? Who can truly answer this question?”

 

Reynosa, Mexico

If the girls in Thailand were the happiest, and the girls in Bangladesh were the saddest, the women in Mexico were the grittiest, the oldest, and I also think the most tired.

Here we see the most nudity of the entire film. It is uncensored and unapologetic. We see drug use and drunken stripping. The entire Zone (the main drag for prostitution) looks like an old, abandoned, strip mall of cheap motel rooms. The streets are wide and unpaved, and the women have to pick their way carefully over the uneven ground in tall platform stilettos.

We also see a deep spiritual relationship with Death—with a capital “D.” Statues of La Santa Muerte—holding scythes, holding a globe of the world, holding the scales of justice—are on tables and on posters plastered to the women’s’ walls.

One woman strips on a pole, looking detached and uninterested, even as she hangs upside down and bares her breasts. In a voice over, she prays to Holy Death.

“Lord, in your Divine Presence, Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I beg for your permission to turn to my Most Holy Death. My White Lady. You glorious and powerful Goddess of Death. I beg you, my protector and master, grant me this favor, invincible woman that you are . . .”

Later, she displays the tattoo on her back—a giant red-cloaked Death.

“I got this Holy Death tattoo to help me die a good death. If you want to go, you go. If not, you stay. That’s all. Your mind is your prison. That’s how I’ve always looked at it. I can check out if I want; if not, I stay. That’s all. If She doesn’t take your life you have to do it yourself.”

 

Whores’ Glory is not a perfect film. Some of what the camera focuses on can seem pretty judgmental, and I have to wonder what they’re choosing not to show us.

There’s a long scene in Thailand of stray dogs humping outside the Fishtank. I get the point, but it seems like the crew just saw these dogs humping and thought it was the most brilliant, well-timed accident they could have stumbled upon, so they just filmed the whole thing and included all of it.

Yeah, thanks. I get it.

Over all, it was a thoughtful film with a lot of layers going on. Definitely worth watching if you’re interested in the facets of global sex work at all.

***

L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.


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