Under the Hill…Boo 2 and The Scary Way We Normalize Sex Trafficking

This weekend Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween topped the U.S. box office with $27.1 million dollars, and while there was enough scary evil little girls and crazy men promising chainsaw massacres to satisfy those anticipating a good fright, the real horror was the way that Grandpa Joe kept bragging about his “pimp” past and his “hoes,” making light of a serious tragedy that is destroying the lives of far too many young men and women.

Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry behind drugs and gun trafficking. It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Approximately 80% are women and children bought, sold and imprisoned in the underground sex service industry

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From L to R: Diamond White as “Tiffany,” Yousef Erakat as “Jonathan,” Tyler Perry as “Madea,” Patrice Lovely as “Hattie,” Lexy Panterra as “Leah,” and Inanna Sarkis as “Gabriella” in Tyler Perry’s Boo! 2 A Madea Halloween. Photo by Chip Bergman.

Sex Trafficking is a serious problem in California, which harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. According to the U.S. Department of Justice more than half (62 percent) of  sex trafficking victims in the United States are African Americans girls, despite the fact that African Americans make up only 7.2 percent of the population.

The U.S. Department of Justice, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that the majority of these girls come from foster care or are runaways and the average age a girl enters “the life” is between 12-14 years old. For boys, it’s even younger – just 11-13 years old. Yet, we are continuously bombarded with the idea of the willing temptress who is happiest when he or she is on the streets or on their back.

The fact is that many of these girls and boys are seduced by “The Romeo Pimp,” someone offering them love, safety and affection who slowly manipulate them into selling their bodies to prove their love and ensure their survival. These pimps tend to be gang members as sex trafficking is quickly overtaking drugs as the leading source of income for gangs. Think about it, a gang member can sell a person a drug and they will snort it, smoke it or shot it up and it’s gone; but a girl can be sold over and over again.

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From L to R: Inanna Sarkis as “Gabriella”, Diamond White as “Tiffany” and Hannah Stocking as “Anna” in Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween. Photo by Chip Bergman.

Often times, we look at the young girls and boys on the street and either look away or assume that they like their circumstances, without understanding the complexity of the dangerous situation they have found themselves in. It is important to know that it is illegal to engage in sexual acts with minors and that minors can never consent to sex.

California has taken big steps to ensure that these victims are not prosecuted as a result of their own victimization with the passage of Senate Bill 1322 in 2016, which states “that minors won’t be treated as criminals if they are caught under such circumstances.” Still, there is more work to be done on the legislative front.

It would be one thing if this was a one-time gag, but it is a running joke throughout the film. Later in the movie, Madea jokes about selling her body in her younger days for her car and stripping for money, while Grandpa Joe wistfully tells his son that his mother was his first hoe.

Got to love those family values! All throughout the film Grandpa Joe portrays himself as a smooth OG that knows how to handle his business, even as he disrespects every woman in the movie, threatens to bodily harm many of the women he comes in contact with, and sexually harasses his granddaughter’s young friend.

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Tyler Perry as “Joe” in Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween. Photo by Chip Bergman.

The question I have is why would Tyler Perry, who has such amazing platform, choose to build his film around this one joke that centers around the exploitation of the most vulnerable?  Yes, his films and plays have always had their problematic elements, but the majority tended to show character growth, and even repercussions for the abuser.

Now, there are some who would argue that nobody should take anything in these movies seriously, but as I saw the young girls in front of me laughing so hysterically at most of the jokes that they nearly fell out of their seats, I had to ask myself ,what are we teaching our girls, even if we don’t mean too?  That violence against women is funny? That pimps are lovable goofballs? That women choose this life for all things it buys them so we should mind our business?

Anybody is susceptible to falling victims to sex trafficking. Some are kidnapped, some are tricked via social media, others are seduced by a man or woman who claims to love them, or through their job as a stripper, and the men and women pimps who facilitate this are not funny or cool. It is time that we start looking at sex trafficking as the serious situation that it is and work together as a community to save our boys and girls for those who have preyed on their minds and bodies and who threaten to destroy the very fabric of our community.

If you know of anyone who is a victim of sex trafficking and need assistance call the Jenesse Center’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-479-7328.

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